A Columbus man pleaded guilty to the shooting death of a Mississippi State student in 2016 and will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
District Attorney Scott Colom held a press conference in the Lowndes County Courthouse at 2 p.m. to announce the sentence of Jaylen Barker for the murder of MSU student Joseph Tillman on Nov. 6, 2016.
Barker, 22, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of first degree murder, downgraded from capital murder, and was given the maximum sentence of life in prison this morning by Circuit Judge Jim Kitchens in Lowndes County.
"The life sentence was important because we need to make sure the public knows that we're going to do everything in our power to keep Mississippi State, Oktibbeha County, the 16th Circuit a safe community," Colom said.
Colom said Barker admitted in open court to killing Tillman when asked by Judge Kitchens.
"Because it was a death penalty eligible case, the defendant requested the case be transferred out of Oktibbeha County. The judge granted that continuance and selected Union County for the trial," Colom said.
A life sentence was offered because Barker willingly admitted under oath to the crime knowing he would have to spend at least the next 43 years in prison.
Colom said the judge pointed out Barker's decision to avoid Tillman's family and his own sitting through a trial to find out what he did that night. Had the case gone to trial the District Attorney's Office planned to pursue the death penalty.
Tillman was 21 years old at the time when he was killed Nov. 6, 2016 in the Cotton District.
"Not only has an innocent person been taken from this earth, but that person has been taken from their family," Colom said.
Assistant District Attorney Scott Rogillio said evidence shows Barker and others came to Starkville on Nov. 5, 2016 from their homes in Columbus, eventually going to the Cotton District in the early morning hours Nov. 6, 2016.
Barker became aware of another individual having a conversation with the victim, and planned to rob Tillman with with co-defendant, Syboris Pippins.
The defendant asked Tillman for change for $100 and the victim removed his wallet. At that time Pippins grabbed the wallet and ran leaving Barker and Tillman behind at the scene. Tillman chased Pippins a short distance for the wallet but returned immediately to the initial location telling Barker about the stolen wallet.
Barker then shot and killed Tillman and fled the scene. They were apprehended shortly after in the vehicle they left in by way of a traffic stop by the Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Office, who were cooperating with Starkville Police Department for the investigation.
Barker was later indicted by an Oktibbeha County Grand Jury in November 2017 for capital murder, due to the shooting occurring during the commission of a robbery — a felony. Charges related to the murder are still pending against Pippins for capital murder and Brandon Sherrod for accessory after the fact to capital murder.
The suspect will be eligible to be released at age 65.
Joseph's father Collier Tillman spoke on the behalf of the Tillman family to thank the Starkville Police Department, Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Department, Mississippi State University and District Attorney's Office for their compassion and kind support throughout the process.
"We lost a lot when we lost Joseph. He was full of life, love and had a lot more to give. We and many others will always feel that loss but can rest in the assurance that justice has been served," he added.
Colom made a statement to emphasize to parents across the country that MSU does everything in its power to keep its students safe.
"Mississippi State and Starkville - they are safe places. Mississippi State is a safe university and Starkville is a safe city, but unfortunately we have these rare instances where someone commits a crime," he said.