New details about an alleged murder-for-hire plot emerged in court on Monday following a fatal shooting last Friday at a Starkville apartment complex.
In Starkville Municipal Court, 27-year-old Starkville native Henry Lee Neal, Jr., was read his formal charge of conspiracy to commit murder in connection with the shooting death of 33-year-old Joseph Turnipseed, Jr.
During his hearing, Neal — wearing an orange jumpsuit and bulletproof vest — was cordial with city officials, but could be seen shaking his head slightly in disagreement as the accusations were read aloud.
Turnipseed, a resident of the Blackjack community, was found dead of an apparent gunshot wound after police responded to a shots fired call at West Main Arms apartments at the intersection of West Main Street and South Long Street, sometime around 10 p.m. Friday.
Neal had an initial appearance and probable cause hearing in Starkville Municipal Court Monday, where investigators laid out additional details in the case.
SPD Detective Jonathan Headley took the stand and said evidence showed Neal had approached multiple people, offering $5,000 to assist in killing Turnipseed.
Headley said after the shooting, investigators were approached by multiple people corroborating the plot and contact with Neal, with one individual willing to go on record with investigators that they had been offered money to help kill Turnipseed.
He then said none of the individuals who approached investigators agreed to assist Neal in his plot.
Neal became a suspect just a short time after the shooting and was quickly located and arrested.
Headley said investigators spoke with Neal, who would only divulge that he and Turnipseed “did not get along.”
As new details were released in court, he then said investigators have evidence for a pending case, but declined to reveal details in open court due to the ongoing nature of the investigation.
Following the recommendation from the Starkville Police Department, Municipal Judge Brian Kelley set bond at $2 million for Neal on the single felony count.
Investigators recommended the high bond due to Neal’s past criminal record, which includes three counts of domestic violence, a conviction for armed robbery and selling cocaine.
At the time of the shooting, Neal was out on $10,000 bond after being indicted in January on three felony counts of selling cocaine.
City Prosecutor Caroline Moore also said Neal had outstanding fines for past charges in the amount of $1,638.50, with his last payment coming on Sept. 5, 2018 in the amount of $129.
No other arrests have been made as of press time Monday, but police say the shooting remains under active investigation.
If found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, Neal could face fines up to $500,000 and up to 20 years in prison.
Turnipseed’s body was sent to Jackson for an autopsy. It's unclear how many times Turnipseed was shot.
While Neal’s role and motivation in the shooting are still being investigated, court records shed light on his criminal past.
As recently as Jan. 10, Neal was indicted by an Oktibbeha County grand jury for three counts of selling cocaine, all charges he pleaded not guilty to on Monday, Feb 4 — less than a week before the shooting that left Turnipseed dead.
He was out on $10,000 bond for the cocaine charges at the time of the shooting.
Neal also has a violent felony conviction going back to 2010, when he was indicted for two counts of armed robbery after brandishing a firearm at a local Sprint Mart and taking cash from the convenience store with two attendees present.
For the armed robbery case, one count was retired after Neal pleaded guilty to a single count of armed robbery.
Circuit Judge Lee Coleman sentenced him to 14 years in prison, with 10 suspended and four to serve, with five years post-release supervision on the single count of armed robbery.
Court records show Neal was released from prison in February 2015.
While court records indicate Turnipseed had never been convicted of a violent felony in Oktibbeha County, he did have a criminal record, including a drug conviction in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court for cocaine possession in 2013.
The case is being investigated as a homicide and could represent the first murder in Oktibbeha County for 2019.