Judge Kyle Robertson

I appreciate everything that Ben and Erin Napier and the HGTV show “Home Town” has done for Laurel and Jones County. It has shone a spotlight on all that is good and vibrant in our little part of the South. 

Unfortunately, the Windermere shooting death of Katherine Sinclair that culminated in one of the most talked about trials in this county’s history has cast not a spotlight, but a blacklight on our home town. And, like a blacklight, it has illuminated all of the stains, blemishes and sinister spatter about our home town that we all knew existed yet most are too scared to even talk about in public.  

But it is time.

It’s time that we admit to ourselves that the blacklight that has been cast upon us shows that all of us have specks of Katherine Sinclair’s blood on our hands.

A lifelong resident who is now in his 80s summed it up best in a handwritten letter that he sent me at the very beginning of this tragedy: “City Beautiful has a sickness … It has two faces … The wealthy and power-brokers don’t like change but change has been slowly coming. When their ‘historic district’ became threatened, they moved it out of town, built a wall around it and called it ‘Windemere.’ They still pretend the historic district is there and they come to town and sit in their offices and get elected and play their games.”

And we all know what “their games” consist of and we have been letting them get away with it, and tragically, if we hadn’t, Katherine Sinclair would be alive today.  

The main “game” is special privileges for “special” people, and it consists of the rich and powerful making sure that friends, relatives and business associates are elected or appointed to be judges, legislators and top law enforcement officials. It’s about secret meetings in airplane hangars, under-the-table campaign contributions and powerful businessmen doing special favors (drugs, money and sex) for public servants who quickly become beholden to the rich and powerful instead of the general public.

And all of it leads to a privileged class who believe they are above the law because, quite frankly, they are … they own them. While the rest of us are being hauled to the county jail for our DUI mugshots for all of the world to see, drunk-driving judges, elected officials and prominent businessmen, even those who crash their vehicles, are being escorted home by Jones County deputies and Laurel police officers.

When a girlfriend of Greg Burroughs called the Laurel Police Department back in 2014 because he was being abusive toward her and the girlfriend winds up being the only one arrested, that is all part of the “privilege” game.  How dare she try to report a crime  against one of the “special” people! Another part of that game is having that particular police report mysteriously disappear from the LPD’s records.

When Greg Burroughs was charged with serous crimes in 2016, including DUI, child endangerment and resisting arrest, and a former Jones County deputy and current LPD officer shows up late for court and Judge Howell Beech uses that as an excuse to dismiss or find Burroughs not guilty on all charges, that is part of the same corrupt “game.”

So when Greg Burroughs’ girlfriend is found dying with a bullet in her head, of course, as one of the “privileged,” he fully expected he would be the one taken care of. It’s why he called his best friend, Judge Kyle Robertson, before he called 911. It’s why Robertson, in turn, called LPD Chief Tyrone Stewart.  It’s why Burroughs was left off the jail docket. It’s why the Burroughs family was allowed to clean up the crime scene. It’s why Greg Burroughs got to spend a year hanging out at the Laurel Country Club instead of being locked up behind bars after being charged with taking the life of a 23-year-old young woman, whom I’m sure he viewed as nothing more than his property to dispose of at his whim. 

Greg Burroughs is the product of a system of privilege, corruption and power that has governed Laurel and Jones County for more than a century — and we let it happen. All of us, including this newspaper, helped create the monster that is Greg Burroughs. A monster who would call his judge friend before dialing 911 while his girlfriend is dying in his garage. A monster, who on police video seemed a lot more concerned with his own welfare than that of his dying girlfriend, only asking “Is she still breathing?” twice in the hour after police arrived on the scene.

But Greg Burroughs isn’t alone, not even close. We had a well-known and longtime business owner call us up to tell us that “of course Greg Burroughs got special treatment, we all get special treatment,” and he told us that with not even an ounce of guilt associated with it. He truly believed in his heart that there was absolutely nothing wrong with special treatment for the rich and powerful. 

But it is wrong. Very wrong. Everyone should be treated equally under the law. We should all be able to agree on this very basic human right.

But here is the hard part: people must be willing to stand up and demand it. We can no longer be afraid to stand up for what is right, even at the threat of financial and physical harm. We’re going to have to fight for it.

I understand why people are scared. I know the history of corruption, abuse of power and the unsolved murders. We have received dozens of anonymous letters and phone calls about corruption and dozens more warning us that our lives are at stake. 

And yes, we have first-hand knowledge that retribution is a real thing. Sanderson Farms retaliated against our coverage of the Burroughs case by pulling its sponsorship of Bobcat Jr., a publication that is aimed at promoting reading in our grade schools. Greg’s sister-in-law Hillary Burroughs is Sanderson Farms’ marketing director official and the company’s fleet of trucks is furnished by the Burroughs Company, owned by Greg’s uncle.

And, sadly, this retribution by the rich and powerful worked because there is little doubt that the reason WDAM virtually ignored one of the biggest stories of the past decade was because the station executives didn’t want Sanderson to pull all those chicken ads from their airwaves. WDAM may be OK with sacrificing what is right in exchange for the almighty dollar, but the people who work at this newspaper are not OK with it.

But guess what, this newspaper can’t go it alone. If you don’t want another Katherine Sinclair tragedy … If you don’t want a class of citizens who believes they are above the law … If you don’t want the corruption and special treatment to continue, we need more citizens who are not scared to stand up for what’s right.

Even if you are rich and privileged and benefitting from the status quo, one day you will have to stand before God. Do you really want to do so knowing that you willingly took part in a corrupt and unjust system?   

No matter what the verdict ends up in Greg Burroughs trial, no one is going to be able to bring Katherine Sinclair back, but we certainly should honor her memory by being brave, standing up for what’s right, calling out our elected leaders and law enforcement officials for their corrupt double standards and by making sure that from this day forward, we as a community start insisting that our public servants serve the welfare of the general public and not at the whim of the rich and powerful.

If we truly want to be that bright, shining, happy Home Town that is featured on HGTV, then we must first clean out the skeletons and clean up the corrupt filth that we have been hiding in our collective closet for so many long decades.

Jim Cegielski is publisher of the Leader-Call. He lives in Laurel.

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(8) comments


To the Laurel Leader-Call's recent editorial point WDAM-TV virtually ignored the untimely, horrific death of Katherine Sinclair, and the many moments that followed, over fears at least one sponsor would pull advertising, I, a former WDAM staff member, cannot say with certainty that is the reason for the television station's ignorance. From my vantage point, the reason is forthcoming.

When I was welcomed aboard by the then leadership of WDAM more than a decade ago, I was welcomed by people who knew the overall coverage area. Many of the leaders grew up in the Pine Belt. Others spent decades living and working in our area. They would pass their knowledge of the area to the rest of us.

In recent years, WDAM has lost that valued leadership. Many of those great leaders have retired. Other leaders, sadly, have passed from this life to the next. Another great leader you likely know -- Miranda Beard, who rose from the ranks of reporter to assistant news director along with her anchoring duties -- was dismissed for reasons only Joe Sciortino and Nick Ortego -- respectively, the then general manager and news director -- as well as a few others at the corporate level know.

So, who replaces the valued leaders? In most cases, the replacements are people who aren't necessarily loyal to the WDAM legacy. Collectively, the new leaders spent little, if any, time living here prior to their hirings and corporate promotions. Instead, much of the current leadership is made up of people who've been loyal to WDAM's current parent company -- Raycom Media. In turn, they would likely hire people with virtually no ties to our area but their allegiance to Raycom was noticeable. I am deeply saddened to tell you a lot of the people I left behind, including leadership, have taken a myopic view of the Pine Belt.

To borrow a line from Former President Barack Obama, "Let me be clear." Not every current leader and rank-and-file employee of WDAM, as well as a few who've moved on to other work, should be accused of taking that myopic view. Still, as of the end of my WDAM days, too many people at the station, including leaders, are deeply caring about Hattiesburg, Petal and Oak Grove -- and not much else.

Without naming additional names, a random sampling of their nonsensical questions will follow. For example, when WDAM received details of a potential feature story from a viewer in Sandersville, a reporter openly asked, "Where's Sandersville?" What's worse? The next day, a newsroom manager asked the exact same question. My response to the manager's question was just three words long ("North of Laurel."); I punctuated the brief correct answer with a brief dirty look in that manager's direction.

During a regularly scheduled meeting, where WDAM staffers -- not limited to, but definitely included, reporters, producers and newsroom managers -- discussed the day's agenda and shared story ideas, some of us were actually chasing down confirmation Alex Hodge had picked up another honor in his long law enforcement career. A newsroom manager questioned, "Oh -- who's he?" This newsroom manager had been on the job two months -- and, at that moment, couldn't instantly recognize Alex Hodge as Jones County's sheriff.

Then there was the time a reporter was covering a health story. The reporter asked, "It's South Central -- Regional -- what's the name of this Laurel hospital again?" If a South Central Regional Medical Center team member overheard that nonsense, he or she would text his or her boss -- and the hospital might pull advertising from WDAM.

Beyond Laurel and Jones County, it doesn't get much better. A further sampling of nonsense from leaders and others will follow. "New Augusta -- is that in Alabama?" "Richton's in what county again?" "Sylva-Bay Academy -- is that local?"

Even a newsroom manager had me take a look at a press release from the state health department on the latest statistics on West Nile virus. The manager's instructions to me: "Take a look at this press release and see if anyone from Forrest County has contracted West Nile." The manager only said Forrest County -- and I promise you I have better sense than this.

Can you imagine a neophyte getting the same marching orders? If the health department confirmed, in the span of about a week, three patients in Jones County contracted West Nile, three others in Jasper County, two in Wayne, two in Covington, one in Stone and one in Perry, there's a chance the release would end up in the garbage and the story would not air. Why? Because a so-called manager instructed a so-called rookie journalist to only focus on Forrest County.

But then came the nonsensical moment to end all nonsensical moments. Nearly one full year ago -- video from the Columbus Police Department went viral. It was a lengthy clip from a body camera as a Caucasian policeman pulled over an African American driver. Officer Keith Dowd verbally assaulted the driver, allegedly for speeding, and threatened another level of violence toward the driver in the event of further infractions. The city seriously considered firing the policeman, who later turned in his badge.

Now to the nonsensical question that followed. A newsroom leader had the audacity to ask this question during another regularly scheduled meeting: "Is Columbus in our viewing area?" Four words came to my mind -- but were not said out loud. "Oh, waiter. Check, please."

I again borrow the classic line from America's 44th President. "Let me be clear." No one in that particular meeting from September of 2017 confused Columbia, which is in WDAM's viewing area, with Columbus, which is a fur piece from here.

Before and since my last day at WDAM, I'm seeing the same on-air promos you are -- filled with buzzwords and catchphrases such as "7 On Your Side" and "Holding leaders accountable to you." If you've seen those promos, you have every right to wonder why WDAM wasn't questioning certain leaders in a similar manner the LLC has been during the long Windermere shooting saga.

Did I and others speak up about WDAM's lack of coverage of the saga? Absolutely. Some of us, in separate meetings where story ideas were shared, asked if there was anything new to the case. Those of us who spoke up addressed two elephants in the room -- the LLC and the Jackson-based Clarion-Ledger. We pointed out the two newspapers were covering this case -- one of them extensively. Our questions fell on deaf ears.

Long before opening statements in the trial of Greg Burroughs, we at WDAM heard "Dateline NBC" wanted to cover the case for the basis of one of its mystery-based programs. Can you imagine the look on the faces of Keith Morrison, Lester Holt and the rest of the "Dateline" team if they found out WDAM has precious little video and other visual material for them to work with?

To those who felt WDAM has let you down in coverage of one of the biggest stories in Pine Belt history, all I can say is this.

I've been let down as well.


We know exactly how dirty jcsd is. Also a victim of the rich.

Brandiilyne Dear

Thank you so much for your courage and boldness! Thank you for standing up for what is RIGHT! This is why I LOVE this paper! You guys have always stood on the side of justice and truth.... even though truth is not always popular!! Thank you!!!


You know I understand he got away with murder, but why throw Ben and his wife in it. Every town has their pros and cons. He shouldnt have even mentioned them or their show. They had absolutely nothing to do with it!


It's really sad that he's hiding behind his Uncle's money


This is but one side. Hattiesburg, Jackson, especially Rankin county is so corrupt.. Laurel is worse then people know. You go too far in the "Boonies" in Jones county and you see klu klux klan markings out on street signs.. it's bad..

RANKIN county is so bad it's dubbed "Stankin Rankin"

Gerald Touchstone

Mr Jim,we pray daily for our county.
For you at the paper especially! AND for our leaders to see and experience God's hand in their lives that Everyone will be treated fairly.
God bless you as you seek the justice we all want and need!



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