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Homeless murder suspect found in Atlanta

Last Friday, 21st Judicial District Judge Charlotte Foster issued arrest warrants for Reginald Lathan Reed, 59, and Jimmy Ray Barnes, 60, after a Tangipahoa Parish Grand Jury charged both men with second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in a 1987 homicide – the butchering of Reginald Reed’s 26-year-old wife, Selonia Ophelia Smith Reed.

Hammond residents know Reginald Reed as a former city mayoral candidate, but few knew the name Jimmy Ray Barnes before last week.

Jacqueline Smith, however, was Selonia Reed’s younger sister, and she will never forget that name.

On August 20, 1987, shortly after 10:30 pm, “Jackie” stepped outside her sister’s Apple Street home for a smoke. As she approached the edge of the porch, a shadow moved near the front steps, startling her, causing her to scream, and bringing Selonia from inside the house.

Reginald Reed arrested in 2019

“Leave us alone,” Selonia said to the shadow. “Why are you here?”

Jimmy Ray Barnes, a neighbor and local handyman, stepped into the light emanating from the door. Grinning, he claimed he had taken his dog for a walk and that the dog had gotten away.

Selonia pulled Jackie back into the house and locked the door behind them. Her son, six-year-old Reggie, Jr. stood outside his bedroom door, concerned about the commotion.

“Loni, that guy outside,” Jackie said, “Is he the reason you asked Dad to buy you a gun?”

“It’s late,” Selonia replied. “Let’s just go to bed.”

Three days later – on a rainy Sunday morning, August 23, 1987 – police found Selonia Smith Reed’s car parked near John’s Curb Market, a convenience store on East Thomas Street, just three blocks from the police station and within walking distance of 1314 Apple Street – the house where Jackie met Jimmy Ray Barnes.

Inside the car, police found Selonia’s body slumped in the passenger seat, the handle of an umbrella visible between her legs.

Before or after sexually assaulting her with the umbrella, her assailant beat her face profusely and stabbed her chest and neck a dozen times or more wielding an instrument slightly larger than a Phillips screwdriver.

Before exiting the car, the monster drew or wrote something in the victim’s blood, squirting a white substance that Coroner Dr. Vincent Cefalu said refused to melt in the August heat.

Selonia Reed died, the coroner said, from three stab wounds in the right middle lobe of her lungs and one in the right atrium of her heart.

Investigators questioned Jimmy Ray Barnes days after the murder, along with Reginald Reed and nearly 100 other people, including Selonia’s friends and family and her co-workers at Citizen’s National Bank. Working around the clock, police could not close the case that week. In fact, the brutal murder remained unsolved for nearly 32 years.

A decade after the murder, Reginald Reed announced his candidacy for mayor of Hammond. By then, Jimmy Ray Barnes had fled the state, and the Hammond Police Department had seemingly forgotten the cold case.

Jimmy Ray Barnes
Jimmy Ray Barnes in 2004

In October 2018, Hammond Police Chief James Stewart told me how recently retired investigators had closed the case on their way out, marking it “cleared by exceptional means” – meaning investigators had identified the likely perpetrators, but would never find the evidence to win a conviction in court.

When investigators assigned to the murder retired, they closed the case on their way out.

Hammond Police Chief James Stewart, October 2018

That all changed in January of 2019.

That month, Hammond Mayor Pete Panepinto dismissed Chief Stewart, and Assistant Chief Thomas Corkern notified me that the Selonia Reed case was active again, this time with the District Attorney’s Office, the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office, and the Louisiana State Police all involved in the investigation.

District Attorney Scott Perrilloux told the Daily Star last week that relatively new developments in DNA matching allowed investigators to reconsider the case. “I was able to assign this to someone who went back and reviewed all of the prior investigative materials,” he said. “And we felt like it was now a prosecutable case.”

District Attorney Scott Perrilloux

Questioned by investigators in January, Claudette Matthews – Reginald Reed’s sister – explained why she believed Jimmy Ray Barnes had left the state, and in an interview this week, she recounted that information.

“As I understood it, Jimmy Ray Barnes left Louisiana in the 90s, just before my brother announced he was running for mayor,” she said. “Before that, Reginald had shot Barnes in the back of his neck, supposedly on accident, after inviting him on a fishing trip to Bayou Manchac. I believe Reginald threatened to kill him and feed him to the alligators if he broke his silence about Selonia.”

“Jimmy Ray Barnes’ mother took him to Big Charity when he was shot,” Claudette said, “And she made him leave town when he got out.”

On June 3, 2004, the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office in Atlanta, Georgia booked Jimmy Ray Barnes into the Fulton County jail, charging him with possession and attempting to sell cocaine. Two weeks later, their local drug court released him with time served, and Jimmy Ray Barnes fell off the grid.

“Last thing I heard,” Claudette Matthews said, “His family said Jimmy Ray was homeless, living under a bridge somewhere.”

In January 2019, church volunteers in Atlanta, Georgia complained to television station PBS-Atlanta about local police officers rousting the homeless and questioning vigorously anyone living under bridges within the city limits.

“This is what I’ve heard,” camp resident Tony Hines told PBS. “I heard if you get caught living under a bridge, you are going to jail.”

Vagrant Camp
Georgia vagrants camping under a bridge

Interviewed on the National Public Radio network, Pastor Monica Mainwaring told the interviewer that Atlanta’s mayor wanted all homeless encampments cleared out before the Super Bowl in February, but in an interview with WABE radio, Mayor Keisha Bottoms denied that accusation.

“This has absolutely nothing to do with the Super Bowl,” the mayor told the listening audience. “If it did, I would say so.”

In the end, neither the Atlanta Police Department nor the Fulton County Sheriff’s office dismantled any vagrant camps. Instead, they merely interviewed camp residents, asking questions, as if they were looking for someone.

Today, I cannot verify that the Atlanta raids on vagrant camps are in any way related to the search for Jimmy Ray Barnes. However, on Saturday, June 22, Assistant District Attorney Taylor Anthony confirmed for Jackie Smith that Jimmy Ray Barnes had been located, homeless, living under a bridge in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office booked Reed in Hammond on June 21 – Friday afternoon at 2:44 and transferred him to the parish jail in Amite Friday night shortly before 10: pm.

Judge Foster set bond at $250,000 for Reed and $200,000 for Barnes.

According to Taylor Anthony, Barnes should be booked into the Tangipahoa Parish Jail in Amite by Wednesday, June 26.

Taylor Anthony joined Scott Perrilloux’s team last fall. He is a Tangipahoa Parish native, who has earned praise from the FBI for his recent prosecution of a child pornography case. Today, Anthony is the lead prosecutor in the second-degree murder case against Reginald Reed and Jimmy Ray Barnes.

The Louisiana State Legislature defines first-degree murder as the killing of another person with intent while committing another specified felony – or the planned execution of a police officer or public official. Second-degree removes the additional felony requirement, but both demand a sentence of life in prison doing hard labor without any option for parole.

Selonia's Grave
Selonia’s Grave

The indictments against the two men came Friday afternoon, June 21. That night, Jackie Smith’s phone rang. News of the Grand Jury and of Reginald Reed’s arrest had reached her nephew’s home in San Antonio, Texas.

Reggie, Jr. asked Jackie, “Why now, Auntie, after 32 years?”

Jackie replied, “Baby, you were only six-years-old when you lost your momma. You didn’t need to lose your daddy, too. I think God’s been waiting all this time, just waiting until you were strong enough to handle what comes next.”

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