He was living the life after getting handed a life sentence.
Inmate No. 57808 must have seemed like one trustworthy crook to Mississippi law enforcement. Without a thought he was allowed to yak on his personal contraband cellphone, tossed the keys of the sheriff’s wheels to do “errands,” and paid a decent per diem to tend horses, gather fresh eggs, bail hay, tune cars, clean houses, and chop wood.
Thing is, the farmhand jailbird was Jerry Mack, a convicted murderer.
It’s as if Mack stole milk money rather than murder a man, judging by the cushy life he had going in the clink.
The odd jobs the 49-year-old killer had been getting paid cash to do, and the county-owned cars he was allowed to zip around town in, gave him freedoms far beyond the barbed-wire gates of the Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond, Mississippi.
Mack managed to stay under the radar for almost eight years before authorities in the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC), acting on a tip, snatched his get-out-of-jail-free card last week.
In ho-hum fashion, Mack sang to investigators about how his extracurriculars were well known to the prison guards. “I normally run by my house twice a week,” he said. “I try to sleep at my house twice a month.” They found the inmate had chucked his green- and white-striped prison uniform for civilian duds and was on the street with $435 in his pocket, his cellphone, a valid driver’s license, as well as a knife and a box cutter, authorities said.
He was sort of an on-call hand when he was on farm duty, he said. “The dispatcher at [the detention center] would call my cellphone and tell me where to go,” he said, before adding that nobody was the wiser. Or if they were, they were giving him the green light. “To my knowledge everyone at the HSO Farm was aware that I had a cellphone,” he said.
MDOC Commissioner Marshall Fisher, who took over the corrections reins on January 1, 2015, said investigators are working to figure out how the killer was granted work release, usually reserved for nonviolent inmates in good standing who get to leave the jail for 72-hour clips.
“This inmate should not have been outside the secured perimeter,” Commissioner Fisher said in a statement about the illicit sojourns. “Instead, we found him in a barn which is located outside a fence.”
But Hinds County Sheriff Tyrone Lewis is not so sure any kind of impropriety happened. “Right now, we don’t have any facts leading us to determine if these are factual allegations. Here, you’ve got to consider the source,” he said.
In 1996, the gavel slammed down on murderer Jerry Mack for blasting away his 31-year-old pal Jessie Washington Jr.
His fate was supposed to be sealed, the victim’s family granted the closure they’d deserved. But in what appears to be a gross oversight at best or ungodly complicity by some authorities in Hinds County, Mississippi, at worst—Mack was able to get away with virtual murder as a part-time prisoner beginning in 2008.
Fancy free, Mack got busy. With the ladies.
Inmate Mack over the years worked some chores by day but played at night. He'd routinely change into streetwear to court at least two women. One bore him a son, Jerry Mack Jr. After breaking up with the baby mama, Mack found another sweetheart named Laura, who was a preacher’s daughter, his dad said. And the couple decided to get hitched.
“He was locked up at the time, but he had a [wedding] reception at his house,” Mack’s 85-year-old father, James Mack, told The Daily Beast in a phone interview.
The father, who says he is legally blind after suffering a tragic accident where several logs toppled onto him, said that for the past decade his son has been enjoying pocketing money and acting as a dad to Jerry Jr. while living life on the outside and now and then part-timing it in prison. “They’d let him go home, and he would go right back when he was supposed to. He’d tell me, ‘I gotta be back in the jail at such and such time!’ and he’d be there,” his doting father said.
The old man has come to rely on his son’s care-taking, and he is holding out hope that Jerry Mack comes back to live at his home across the street on Champion Hill Road. “I wish there was a way he could come home for good,” James Mack said. “He really takes good care of me and gets me food and things like that.”
When Jerry Mack was discovered roaming around with a fat wallet and going about his days without a care in the world, his victim’s sister, Joyce Course, was devastated. “It’s tearing my family up,” Course told The Daily Beast.
She and her family thought they’d remained as vigilant as any victim’s kin could. They kept tabs. Mack, she said, went up for parole twice, in 1999 and 2002, and was denied both times. “We only found out last week what was going on,” she said.
How Jerry Mack shot up her brother on the night of Nov. 19, 1994, was a clear crime of passion. Mack claimed self-defense, but a jury didn’t buy that.
That night, Mack had a fight with his ex-wife, Lorraine. When she stood him up after he declared he wanted to talk, he tracked her down at a club in Bolton, Mississippi. Not one for rejection, Mack stormed inside and pistol-whipped the woman.
Afterward she spoke with two friends, Jessie Washington Jr. and Ronnie Robinson. The pair then left her and drove off to another club in town.
According to court documents, Washington and Robinson saw Mack behind the wheel of a brown Cadillac, flashing his high beams and aiming his shotgun at them.
Course, who spoke with the lone survivor, Robinson, recounted what happened next. Jerry Mack slowed up next to the two men in the car and asked them a question: “Hey, guys, I heard you were looking for me.”
Robinson denied it, but before he had finished answering, Mack started firing his shotgun. He hit Washington in the left temple. “That was the first gun,” Course said. “He had three guns, and he unloaded all three guns on their car that night.”
The car was still in drive and proceeded to accelerate into a ditch. Mack continued to fire at the vehicle.
“[Mack] was still shooting, and Ronnie yelled to my brother, ‘Hey, Jessie, he’s still shooting,’” to no answer. “He called out, ‘Jessie!’ and saw his head on the steering wheel. That’s when he knew he was dead,” Course said.
According to Course, Robinson managed to make a dash from the bullet-riddled car. As he ran, bullets were still whizzing by. Once in the clear, Robinson dialed 911. He had been wounded but survived.
Initially, authorities didn’t manage to collar Mack. “He was hiding out, and I went to tell him to let me go take him in,” his father said. “I told him, ‘If you do wrong, you got to go and give yourself up.’”
His son ultimately confessed, just not to cold-blooded murder. No, Mack told cops he was being chased by Robinson and Washington, and that he would have been a dead man had he not fired first.
“Those boys chased him,” James Mack said, after hearing his son’s side of the crimson chain of events. “He told me all about it that night. He said, ‘Daddy, I did something that you always told me not do. I had no other choice. I had to kill that guy or he was going to kill me.”
In a twist, Mack said he meant to kill Robinson, not his friend Washington, who was driving the car.
“He told me, ‘Daddy, I’m sorry I killed the wrong guy, but I thought he was grabbing my wife,’” his father said.
To this day, James Mack believes the two former friends hunted down his beloved Jerry, not the other way around. “Them guys come to his house, he was by himself, they run him till he ran out of gas, and if he hadn’t shot them they would have killed him,” he said.
But Course believes her brother’s killer only turned himself in because Robinson survived. And she says the murderer Mack also meddled with the “self-defense” weapon.
“The next day he went and sawed off the shotgun to make it undetected to be connected to the murder,” she said. “Only because Ronnie lived. If Ronnie had died, there’s no one to tell who it was that did it.”
After she learned her brother’s killer was just about a bona fide citizen, Course was rightfully perplexed. She is overcome now, fearing her brother’s killer could strike again. And she says she doesn’t know where to turn. “This has been going on for years, and it’s inexcusable,” she said. “This is a major breakdown in our system here in Mississippi.”
Her only solace is that her parents aren’t alive to see their son’s killer walking around free. “I’m just glad because both my parents aren’t around to deal with this again…I’ve seen my dad cry once in my life, and that’s when Junior got killed,” she said.
And the 50-year-old nursing home administrator didn’t know that Mack had started a family and married. “I had no idea,” Course said.
As for Mack’s blind, log-hauling father, she said he showed his “true colors” directly after his son’s sentencing. After the verdict, Mack’s father growled “the worst thing you could ever say to my mama: ‘We should get a gun and kill all those sons of bitches,’” she said.
Even so, Course has tried to be at peace with the man who murdered her brother. “I don’t feel sorry for Jerry [Mack] anymore,” she said. “I’ve forgiven him for his crime, but he needs to serve his time.”