Robert C. “Bert” Bell
Facts of the Crime:
On May 6, 1991, Robert C. “Bert” Bell was working as the store clerk at Sparks Stop-and-Go in Grenada County. That day Frederick Bell accompanied by Anthony Joe Doss, Robert Kennedy James, and Frank Coffey purchased beer and potato chips from Bert. The two Bells are not related. The four exited the store, sat at a nearby picnic table and talked. Planning to go to Memphis, Bell said that he needed money. Bell announced that he was going to rob the store and showed the group a .22 caliber pistol. Doss also had in his possession a gun, which turned out to be inoperable. Refusing to take part, James and Coffey departed the premises as the other two went back into the store.
Minutes later, James and Coffey heard hollering accompanied by gunshots. When Bell and Doss caught up with the other two, they showed them items they had taken from the store, including a money bag, .38 caliber pistol and a box of bullets. Because he did not want any witnesses, Bell then threatened to kill James. Coffey and Doss stepped in to prevent this. Both James and Coffey testified that Bell said he shot Bert. Later that day, Bernard Gladney drove Bell, Doss, and Coffey to Memphis. On the way, Bell again stated that he wanted to kill James to prevent him from telling anyone about the murder.
Eventually, Bell was arrested in Memphis on another crime. Two guns were found in the house where he was arrested, a third was found in Gladney’s vehicle. Leland H. Jones, III, represented Bell during both the trial and the direct appeal. During the trial, there was no direct testimony regarding what actually occurred inside the store. Bell maintained that he was in Memphis the day of the murder. However, there were no witnesses to corroborate his alibi. Both James’s sister and Coffey’s girlfriend testified that they saw Bell with Coffey, Doss and James the day of the murder. The store owner, James Shelby Sparks, testified that a .38 caliber pistol (which was later recovered during Bell’s arrest), a box of shells, and a money bag were taken from the store during the robbery. An autopsy revealed that Bert was shot several times. Ballistics tests showed that Bert was shot with the .38 and a smaller caliber gun, likely a .22 caliber.