Cory Gilbert looks at the camera as attorneys Thomas Brame, right, and Nick Cerra wait for the jury’s verdict.

Man drunk, high when he ran down pregnant school teacher, killing her unborn child

The verdict in the Corey Gilbert hit-and-run case is read in open court.

A Jones County man who was called a “ticking time bomb” was ordered to spend 52 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of causing a crash that killed the unborn baby of a South Jones Elementary School teacher.

James Cory Gilbert, 34, was convicted in Jones County Circuit Court of DUI

death of an unborn child, aggravated DUI and failure to stop vehicle having been involved in an accident after he fled the scene of the crash on Welch Road, near Soso, on Jan. 4, 2020. Mashayla Harper was returning from a baby shower in her honor at The Gables when the crash occurred. She suffered serious injuries and her daughter Londyn — a viable fetus at 8 months — was pronounced dead at South Central Regional Medical Center that night.

The jury — made up of eight white men, three white women and one black woman — deliberated for only 45 minutes before returning the guilty verdicts just after noon on Friday after three days of testimony.

What they didn’t hear was Gilbert’s criminal history of 21 arrests since 2004, which included a felony DUI conviction and at least seven other alcohol-related offenses that Judge Dal Williamson listed before sentencing him.

“Mr. Gilbert, you have been a ticking time bomb for a long time, and today, it’s going to stop,” Williamson said.

He ordered Gilbert to serve a total of 52 years in the full-time custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, five years post-release supervision under MDOC and to pay a fine of $10,000.

Just before sentencing, a tearful Gilbert stood up and said, “I can’t express how truly sorry I am. I can’t take away anything I’ve done ... I truly am sorry.”

District Attorney Tony Buckley told the court, “None of us can understand the unimaginable nightmare” that Harper has suffered and pointed out that she has “a lot of scars” despite her “remarkable recovery.”

The jury saw a video in which Gilbert admitted to Jones County Sheriff’s Department investigators that he had been drinking and smoking marijuana just before the crash.

“I shouldn’t have been driving,” he said.

His blood-alcohol level — which was taken more than six hours after the crash — was a little more than .10, a crime lab expert testified. The legal limit for operating a vehicle is .08.

Investigators J.D. Carter and Patrick Oster testified on behalf of the state along with county prosecutor Brad Thompson, who was first on the scene. He had been hunting near the crash site and was credited with saving Harper’s life.

A crash reconstructionist also testified for the state along with Dr. Michael Weber, who was Harper’s ob/gyn.

In their closing arguments, Gilbert’s attorney Thomas Brame conceded that his client left the scene but argued that the state didn’t prove that Harper didn’t cause the accident and that Gilbert was impaired at the time of the collision.

The defendant’s father Jimmy Gilbert testified that his son hiked back to his house after the crash and drank three beers in 20 to 25 minutes to “calm his nerves” after the crash.

Buckley noted that in the interview at JCSD, the defendant said that he “absolutely” did not drink or smoke anything else after the crash.

Buckley also said, “I probably swerved” into Harper’s lane to cause the crash, Buckley pointed out.

He talked about the findings of the experts but didn’t get bogged down in the particulars of their findings, admitting, “You’d have to have a master’s in math to understand all of that.”

Buckley closed with some home-spun wisdom from his former law partner and fellow prosecutor J. Ronald Parrish: “The guilty flee-eth when no man pursue-eth.”

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