On Aug. 9, Oxford police testified for the first time to the evidence used to charge 22-year-old Sheldon Timothy Herrington Jr. for the murder of Jimmie “Jay” Lee. During a preliminary hearing, Ryan Baker, an OPD detective, laid out the steps that police took before arresting Herrington for killing Lee.
A Black student who was well-known in Oxford’s LGBTQ community, Lee’s body is still missing more than a month after he disappeared on July 8. Herrington has not yet entered a plea in the case, but Carlos Moore, who used to be married to Herrington’s aunt, has said he believes Herrington did not kill Lee.
To help the public understand how police investigate missing persons cases, Mississippi Today has recreated the timeline of OPD’s investigation into Lee’s death using Baker’s testimony and publicly available documents.
This post will be updated as more information is released about the investigation.
Around 8:30 p.m., the University of Mississippi Police Department receives a call from Lee’s mom, Stephanie Lee, requesting a wellness check. Stephanie tells police her son’s location isn’t showing up on her iPhone and that it’s alarming for Lee to let his phone die.
About 15 minutes later, according to UMPD’s initial incident report, an officer checks on Lee’s apartment at Campus Walk, a university-owned student housing complex. The door is slightly ajar, and Lee’s dog is inside.
UMPD starts pulling video surveillance footage from Campus Walk. The footage, Baker testified, shows Lee leaving his apartment a little after 4 a.m., coming back about 40 minutes later, then leaving again at 5:58 a.m.
UMPD posts on social media asking for information about Lee’s whereabouts. The post includes a description of Lee’s car, a black Ford Fusion with a gold stripe on the front hood and a Mississippi license plate reading “JAYLEE1.”
UMPD then receives a call from Bandit Towing, a company in Oxford. Bandit Towing tells UMPD that it towed Lee’s car from Molly Barr Trails, an apartment complex in northeast Oxford, at 1:52 p.m. on July 8, and gives UMPD a picture of Lee’s car parked in the back of Molly Barr Trails, near a wooded area that stretches to the airport.
The Oxford Police Department gets involved in the case and receives a call on its tip line from one of Lee’s friends who says they had talked over Snapchat early in the morning on July 8. Lee’s friend tells OPD that Lee was in the car on the way to meet someone “he had previously hooked up with,” Baker testified.
Lee didn’t say who he was going to meet, Baker testified that the friend recalled, but said he had blocked the person on social media following a fight they’d had a few hours earlier. The person then reached out on Snapchat “under a username Jay Lee didn’t recognize,” Baker testified Lee’s friend said, and “offered to do something to Jay Lee they’d never done before” that was implied to be sexual in nature.
To trace how Lee’s car ended up at Molly Barr Trails, Baker testified that OPD starts obtaining video surveillance from businesses along Jackson Avenue, a main thoroughfare in Oxford, and the front office at Molly Barr Trails.
Footage from the front office shows Lee’s car arriving at Molly Barr Trails at 7:25 a.m. Nine minutes later, Baker testified that the footage shows a “Black male running from Molly Barr Trails” wearing dark shorts, a gray hoodie and black-and-white sneakers. Baker noted during his testimony that the video does not show this same person running into the complex.
Around 7:38 a.m., footage from a gas station on Molly Barr Trails showed the same person – who officers will later determine is Herrington – jogging into the parking lot and meeting a white Kia Optima with an Ole Miss tag.
OPD searches Molly Barr Trails with help from K-9s from the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office and releases a video of Lee’s father pleading for more information.
Lee’s family organizes a search party at Clear Creek Lake, a conservation area north of Oxford near where the body of Ally Kostial, a UM student who was murdered by her boyfriend, was found in 2019.
OPD announces the FBI and Mississippi Attorney General’s Office are assisting in the investigation.
OPD receives Lee’s Snapchat data – including his messages and blocked contacts – and identifies Herrington as a person of interest.
Lee’s Snapchat data corroborates the account his friend gave to OPD on July 10. Snapchat’s location data puts Lee in the vicinity of Herrington’s apartment for the last time at 6:12 a.m. on July 8.
Starting at 5:17 a.m. on July 8, Lee’s Snapchat messages show a conversation with an account named “redeye_24” that Lee doesn’t recognize. OPD determines “redeye_24” is Herrington by identifying the phone number associated with the Snapchat account, a Google Voice number registered to an email for Herrington’s podcast, “Dirt 2 Diamonds.” An account belonging to Herrington is also among Lee’s blocked contacts.
In the messages, Herrington asks Lee to “come back” to his apartment, but Lee initially refuses, calling the way Herrington treated him earlier that night as an “asshole move.” Lee then says that he thinks Herrington is “just tryna lure me over there to beat my ass or something.” Herrington replies, “you trippin,” adding, “I do feel bad because we cool so I ain’t trying to end it like this.”
Lee replies the only way he will go back to Herrington’s apartment is if Herrington reciprocates oral sex, and Herrington agrees. Lee tells Herrington it won’t “end up good” if he tries to “hurt me or some shit.” Herrington replies “I know.”
OPD pulls the car tags of the white Kia Optima – the car that Herrington met at the gas station parking lot – and realizes an officer pulled the car over during a traffic stop on the morning of July 8. OPD looks at the officer’s body camera, which shows a Black male in the passenger seat wearing clothes that match the video footage from Molly Barr Trails.
Mid-morning, officers knock on Herrington’s door at DLP Oxford, a luxury student housing complex. Baker testified that Herrington opens the door, answers “a few general questions about knowing Jay Lee” and asks officers to “excuse the mess … because he was moving to Dallas soon.” Baker recalls that clothes and towels were lying on the couch, as if Herrington had just done laundry.
OPD detains Herrington and takes him back to the precinct for questioning. At 2:44 p.m., officers read Herrington his Miranda rights, and he signs a waiver agreeing to give up his right-to-counsel in the interview with Baker and a lieutenant. Herrington acknowledges that he had a casual relationship with Lee and says that on the morning of July 8, he went to Walmart to buy duct tape before going on a run.
As Baker and his lieutenant are interviewing Herrington, other officers execute a search warrant on his apartment, obtaining several items including his MacBook, keys, and a pair of dark-colored shorts. Officers also seize a Walmart receipt that shows Herrington bought duct tape at 6:41 a.m. The DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office walks its “cadaver dogs” – K-9s trained to identify the smell of a dead body – through Herrington’s apartment. The dogs “alert” three times in Herrington’s bedroom and once in the living room area.
During the preliminary hearing, Herrington’s attorney, state Rep. Kevin Horan, repeatedly asked Baker if OPD had reviewed the training DeSoto County gives its cadaver dogs or checked to see if the dogs had ever before identified the smell of a dead body. Baker said that he had not.
The dogs also alert during a search of Herrington’s car, and an OPD technician finds blonde hair near the driver’s seat and back passenger seat. In the trunk, Baker testified that an OPD technician found bodily fluid in the shape of a footprint but did not specify what kind.
Police also bring in for questioning the driver of the Kia Optima who says that he was driving on Molly Barr Trails the morning of July 8 when he saw Herrington jogging. The driver says that Herrington told him he was “gassed” from a run and needed a ride back to his apartment.
Baker gets an affidavit for Herrington’s arrest, and he’s booked into the Lafayette County Detention Center around 8:15 p.m.
July 25 and 26
OPD expands its search for Lee’s remains to Grenada County and takes possession of Herrington’s box truck in Oxford.
OPD receives a forensic copy of Herrington’s MacBook that shows his Google search history. The forensic copy shows that on July 7, Herrington had googled flights from Dallas to Singapore. That night, he looked at a Twitter profile titled #TransLivesMatter that posts pornographic videos of trans people.
The copy also showed that Herrington was looking at Lee’s Twitter page at 5:21 a.m., a few minutes after he first messaged Lee on Snapchat. At 5:56 a.m., minutes after Lee messaged Herrington he was on his way, the copy shows that Herrington searched “how long does it take to strangle someone gabby petito,” then “does pre workout boost testosterone.”
OPD also obtains video from Walmart showing Herrington viewing garbage cans shortly before purchasing duct tape at 6:41 a.m.
Police search Herrington’s parent’s house in Grenada after getting a search warrant. Officers also obtain video footage of Herrington retrieving a long-handle shovel and wheelbarrow from his parent’s house and putting it into the back of the box truck.