The family of a slain Grenada man has been dreading the possibility of their loved one’s killer being released from prison every day for more than three decades.
For the Bells, that day may come next week, if the Mississippi Department of Corrections Parole Board doesn’t reverse its decision to grant Frederick Bell, who was convicted of capital murder in the shooting death of Robert C. “Bert” Bell – no relation – on May 6, 1991, at a small grocery store in east Grenada County. A statewide effort to stop the former death row inmate’s release has family, friends and justice seekers using email, telephones and social media as their weapons to combat the injustice.
“There are hundreds of people, not just centrally located in Grenada, but all over the state – north and south Mississippi, all pockets of the state – that we’ve asked to email the governor, his chief of staff, his deputy chief of staff, lieutenant governor, attorney general, the parole board, parole board members; that’s where we’re at,” Gene Bell, Bert’s younger brother, said Monday morning.
In 2015, the Mississippi Supreme Court found Frederick Bell, who resided in Calhoun County at the time of the murder, to be mentally disabled on a 5-4 vote and resentenced him to life in prison without parole. Seven years later, that sentence has changed once again. Following a July meeting of the Mississippi Parole Board, the man convicted of brutally murdering the 1988 Kirk Academy graduate, shooting him nine times, may walk free.
“The parole board has actually granted parole to the inmate, so we’re trying to get the governor to step in and overturn it; we just want them to reconsider it,” Gene Bell said. “The facts are distorted somewhere. I don’t know what happened between July 11 and Aug. 25, when they manufactured the letter that I received on Aug. 29, but something during that five-week period happened.”
If Gov. Tate Reeves, who appointed the current parole board, or some other political voice doesn’t intervene, Frederick Bell’s last day behind bars will be next Monday, Sept. 26.
“For the last two years, he’s gotten what they call a 12-month offset only, which means I’m in Jackson every 10 months before the parole board and pleading our case on the family side,” Gene Bell explained. “I’ve never missed a parole board hearing in my life. I’ve been to every one of them; I’ve never done them by teleconference, I’ve always came face-to-face.”
According to Bell, on July 11, he had a scheduled meeting with the Mississippi Parole Board at 12:30 p.m., and he and his wife, Marianne Staten Bell, attended.
“Quite frankly, it was the best parole board hearing I had ever been in,” he said. “Jeffery Belk, who is the chairman of the parole board, clearly told me multiple things. No. 1 was that I was going to like the decisions of this parole board.”
Bell went on to explain that Belk was “proud” of the fact that this parole board was paroling only at about a 17-percent rate versus a 48-percent rate of the prior parole board.
“He said that they had read the file and that there was no way they had intentions of paroling this animal and moved forward to say that they were not interested in a 12-month offset either and that we would get a three year, probably up to a five year,” Gene Bell added.
On Monday, Aug. 29, at lunch, Gene Bell received a letter in the mail from the Parole Board stating that they have paroled his brother’s murderer.
“Now, I can’t figure out how me and my family are supposed to ‘like’ the decisions of this board,” Gene Bell said. “I get it if you want to decrease the penal population – I get that – but you don’t do it with violent, double murder criminals. We can’t even rehabilitate burglars.”
Why? The Bells have not been given any answers and their pleas have “fallen on deaf ears.”
“This man killed my brother,” Gene Bell cried.
With Frederick Bell’s release looming and the questions that remain unanswered, all of the heart ache and anxiety felt 31 years ago has come rushing back.
“It’s never ending,” Gene Bell said. “It’s brutal. I was a sophomore in high school at Kirk Academy and I can tell you the corner I was standing in when John Bailey (family friend) told me that my brother had been killed and that I needed to come with him.”
Stop & Go Murder
Bert Bell, then 21-years-old, worked at the now shuttered Sparks Stop & Go grocery store as a clerk. According to court documents, early in the afternoon of May 6, 1991, Frederick Bell, Anthony Joe Doss, Robert Kennedy James and Frank Coffey left Coffey’s house for the short journey up to the rural store. Testimony revealed that the four of them entered Sparks and purchased some chips and beer from Bert Bell. They went outside, sat on a picnic table, drank the beer and ate the chips. Frederick Bell talked of going to Memphis, Tenn., and said that he needed some money. As they talked, he announced he was going to rob the store and showed the group a .22 caliber pistol, which he had in his possession. Doss also had a gun at this point, but, apparently, it would not fire. James and Coffey testified that they refused to take part in the action and departed the scene as Bell and Doss went in the store. A minute or so later, James and Coffey heard gunshots and hollering.
Court documents went on to read that when Bell and Doss caught up with the other two, they showed them a .38 caliber pistol, which they had taken from the store, along with a box of bullets and a money bag. At this point, Bell threatened to kill James because he did not want any witnesses. Coffey and Doss stepped in to prevent this. Both James and Coffey testified that Bell said he shot Bert.
After the incident Bell, Doss and Coffey were taken to Memphis, Tenn., by Bernard Gladney, according to reports. On the way, Bell again said he wanted to kill James to prevent him from telling anyone about the Grenada murder. According to the criminal investigator in charge, two of the guns were recovered from the house where Bell was found in Memphis, Tenn. The third was found in Gladney’s vehicle.
There was no direct testimony concerning what actually went on in the store, although there was physical evidence offered by the State, according to court documents. The foregoing narrative is based principally on the testimonies of James and Coffey. Bell maintained at trial and in statements to investigators that he was in Memphis on the day of Bert’s murder. There were no corroborating witnesses as to Bell’s alibi, and in fact James’ sister and Coffey’s girlfriend testified that they saw Bell with the rest of the men in Grenada on the day of the tragedy.
James Shelby Sparks, who owned the grocery, testified that the .38 caliber gun, which was recovered following Bell’s arrest in Memphis, a box of shells and an old money bag were taken from the store during the robbery. The State also showed by ballistic evidence that bullets removed from Bert’s body were fired from that gun. The remaining wounds were caused by bullets of a smaller caliber matching the characteristics of a .22. The criminal investigators could not match any of the fingerprints found in the store to Bell.
Frederick Bell was convicted of murder in Tennessee prior to his conviction in Mississippi after he plead guilty to killing another man in Memphis, Tenn., on the same day of Bert Bell’s murder.
Doss was later convicted for capital murder for his participation in Bert Bell’s murder. He is currently serving life in prison without parole.
Today, Bert Bell would be preparing to celebrate his 53rd birthday in December had his life not been prematurely cut short.
His father, Bobby, died in March.
His mother, Mabry, still has her eldest son’s photo sitting on the television stand in her den where she spends a majority of her time.
His siblings, Gene Bell, Andy Bell and Misty Allbritton, all living in Grenada, and Leigh Ann Goodwin of Charleston, think about their brother every day.
“He was just a happy go-lucky guy,” Gene Bell said. “He and my mother are like two peas in a pod. They love to sit and visit with friends.”
Gene said that his brother enjoyed playing the drums in the Kirk Academy school band, hunting and hanging out with his friends. He also worked at Jiffy Stop in Grenada for Tom Sparks, James Spark’s brother, throughout the years.
“Please join me and my family by calling anyone you know that can get to our elected officials, our governor, your representative, your senator, the Mississippi Parole Board,” Gene Bell concluded. “Tell them all that you strongly oppose the parole of Frederick Bell, MDOC # 81039.”
VOICE YOUR CONCERNS TODAY
Mississippi Parole Board: MsStateParoleBoard@mdoc.state.ms.us and Board members, Chairman Jeffery Belk, email@example.com; James R. Cooper, JRCooper@mdoc.state.ms.us; Julia M. Norman, Julia.Norman@mdoc.state.ms.us; Anthony Smith, ALSmith@mdoc.state.ms.us and Marlow Stewart, firstname.lastname@example.org;
Elected Officials: Gov. Tate Reeves, email@example.com or (601) 359-3150; Lt. Gov. Delbert Hoseman, Ltgov@senate.ms.gov; Chief of Staff, Parker Briden; firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 526-1375; Attorney General Lynn Fitch, email@example.com; Sen. Lydia Chassaniol (R-Winona), firstname.lastname@example.org; Sen. David Lee Jordan (D-Greenwood), email@example.com; Sen. Benjamin Suber (R-Bruce), BSuber@senate.ms.gov; Rep. Kevin Horan (R-Grenada), firstname.lastname@example.org; Rep. Karl Oli-ver (R-Winona), email@example.com and Rep. Tommy Reynolds (D-Charleston), firstname.lastname@example.org