Dec 20, 2012

Former suspect talks about killer's arrest

Rick Hughes
Hughes talks only to the OWP
about the arrest of his girlfriend's killer

Hughes speaks out on Drum murder arrest

Exclusive interview


Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's officials announced Friday morning that former Oxford Eagle pressman David Ledford has been arrested for the murder of Eagle managing editor Monica Drum.

Eagle city reporter Rick Hughes had been under a cloud of suspicion until Ledford's arrest and even went into hiding for weeks after the murder, reaching out to the public through the Planet to proclaim his innocence.

After the announcement of the arrest, we contacted Rick Hughes, and he agreed to talk to us.


Q = Kemper Jones

A = Rick Hughes


Q: I imagine you're relieved that Monica's killer has been arrested.

A: I am. I knew it had to be just a matter of time.

Q: Did you have faith in the Yoknapatawpha Sheriff's Department, that they were going to find the killer?

A: I knew that they would. I mean, I hoped that they would. They did sort of finger me and really put the clamps down on me at the beginning. I mean, they really thought that I had done it.

Q: Reports said that you didn't have a "good" alibi. What was your alibi for that night, Rick?

A: OK. I was dead drunk. I've been drinking a lot lately, and I don't know why. But I've applied to Charter Lakeside Counseling in Memphis for help, and I'm going to get it.

Q: Where were you that night? Were you alone?

A: I was at home, I just started getting depressed and broke out a bottle of Absolut and drank it. Then I went to the liquor store to get more and then back home. I had bruises on my hands. I think I crashed into my kitchen table or something. But that's all, and the police knew that, I think. I told them, but there was no way to prove that I had been home alone all night.

Q: Most of the people in Oxford were convinced that you didn't drink alcohol, so they found your alibi sort of flimsy.

A: Well, I didn't use to. I used to be an athlete, and I cared about my body. But I'm human like everyone else, and I found, slowly at first and then with more speed, that alcohol made me feel better about myself and about my relationship with Monica and so on. So I just started drinking more and more, mostly at home. At bars, I'd tell people I was drinking a Coke when it was whiskey. It was easy to fool people.

Q: Do you think you're an alcoholic?

A: I don't know if this is just a phase I'm going through, but I don't like it, and I'm going to drop it. I wish I could have dropped it sooner.

Q: Why didn't you go to someone about all of this?

A: Who would understand? Everyone knew how crazy Monica had made me. They wouldn't listen to me. But a bottle doesn't talk back. That sounds corny, but it's true. That was where I was at that point in my life. But I can't change the past, even if I do have a few regrets.

Q: Do you regret that you were drunk the night Monica was killed? Do you wish you could have been there to save her?

A: Sure, I do. I've thought about that a lot since she died, but what's done is done. I have to move on. One way or another, I can't dwell on it.

Q: Is that why you went into hiding after she was killed?

A: I wasn't hiding. I didn't know who had killed her, and I was concerned for my own safety.

Q: At that time, who did you think had killed her? Who would also want you dead?

A: I didn't know. That's why I had to take precautions.

Q: What do you think about the latest rumors? About the blackmail and Edward Hagen?

A: That really shocks me, because I thought I knew Monica fairly well, but I never thought that she would blackmail someone with photographs of any kind. Nothing like that ever crossed my mind when I thought about her. She never exhibited anything like that to me, but she was tough, so I guess it's not inconceivable. And I didn't even think that she really knew Edward Hagen. I guess she knew everybody, though.

Q: Why do you think she wanted $10,000?

A: That I don't know. She always had enough money to get by. I guess it was some sort of retirement fund.

Q: Did you ever get the impression that she was involved in something like this?

A: Again, I have to answer no. People hide things from others, though. That's a fact.

Q: What about Edward Hagen? What do you think will happen?

A: I don't know. He hasn't had a spotless record, but he's been a pretty good representative of our interests. It's a shame that he has to give all of that up because of one gambling indiscretion.

Q: Did you know this David Ledford who's been arrested for Monica's murder?

A: Not really. I knew who he was, and Monica mentioned him a few times.

Q: She talked about him?

A: Yeah, she thought he was really milking the workman's comp for everything he could get. I don't really know the situation. Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn't. I don't know him well enough to say.

Q: Is that why he killed her?

A: I don't know. There's no good reason for killing Monica that will make it all make sense, but if he is the one who did it, I guess that could've been his motive. I have no way of knowing.

Q: Do you think he did it alone? Maybe someone paid him to do it.

A: I have no idea.

Q: What are your plans now?

A: Well, Craig Pegues has asked me to serve as acting managing editor of the Eagle, and I agreed. I think he'll probably make me the permanent editor in the next few months.

Q: Congratulations.

A: Thanks. It's a real milestone in my career, and I'm proud of the achievement.

Q: Even with the unfortunate circumstances that got you the job?

A: That was terrible, of course, but it doesn't mean I'm not the best man for the job.

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Dec 16, 2012

Sheriff takes down Rep. Edward Hagen

Is this just the tip of the iceberg?

Rep. Hagen in happier times
It seems the long-standing rumors of high-stakes poker games held at The Rebel Yell for the elite who can afford it are true. The Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department arrested Big Jack Rowan and Congressman Edward Hagen Sunday, Big Jack for hosting the games and Hagen for playing in them. Sources who were there tell us that Sheriff Taylor Sheldon himself was there to slap the cuffs on Hagen personally.

Sheriff's spokesperson Elizabeth Jones said the evidence against Hagen and Big Jack was found during an unrelated investigation. She wouldn't say what that investigation is, but we've been told it's the Monica Drum murder investigation. What did Monica Drum have to do with illegal poker games in the back rooms of a seedy bar? We'd all like to know, but for now, no one's talking.

The Rebel Yell is notorious throughout Yoknapatawpha County as a place where folks can go to sin as little or as much as they want to. The YCSD has raided the business numerous times over the last 10 years, but have never been able to make any significant charges stick.

These arrests raise a lot of questions like what was Edward Hagen thinking? As a former county prosecutor and district attorney in north Mississippi, he can't credibly claim ignorance of the law as a defense. Will the voters forgive him this "indiscretion" or is his political career over?

But maybe the biggest question of all is whether Hagen or Rowan or both were involved in Monica Drum's murder, and if so, how? And why?

It's obvious the sheriff's department knows more than they're telling right now, but once they do, this whole situation could get a lot uglier.
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Dec 5, 2012

An Open Letter to the Oxford Public from Rick Hughes

Rick Hughes
Hughes denies involvement in
girlfriend's murder
Dear Friends and Supporters:

Many of you have wondered why I have not responded publicly to the allegations that I may have been involved to some extent in the murder of Monica Drum. There is more to this story than meets the eye, and most of it is not easy for me to talk about.

Melvin Roberts's recent confession adds a new chapter to the investigation, but I am convinced that the public at large needs to hear my side of the story. Therefore, I now take this opportunity to answer such charges and rumors with the most potent weapon that I have at my disposal – the truth.

First, it is true that Monica Drum and I had a romantic relationship. This relationship lasted for two years, on and off. Like any other couple, we did fight, but we were not enemies. We did raise our voices, like any other couple, but we did not raise our fists.

Several people in Oxford, especially some people that I have worked with in the past, have implied that I am a "violent" person. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those that know me well know that I am not violent and am not prone to anger. In fact, it takes quite a bit to make me angry.

People who lie and slander my name around Oxford certainly make me angry, but I am not going to go out and kill them. These people seem to believe that they are defending Monica Drum's honor by slandering my name, but if Monica herself were still alive, she would be the first to defend me. I know that.

Second, many people have asked why I have not submitted to a witness interview conducted by the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department, as have many others connected with this case. The short answer is that I didn't feel I had to.

Each citizen in our country has certain rights that cannot be infringed upon. One of the most basic is that whether an individual has been charged and arrested in connection with a crime or not, he or she does not have to answer any questions.

I will cooperate fully with Sheriff Taylor Sheldon and other members of the sheriff's department in regard to their most basic inquiries, but I do not feel that the private nature of my relationship with Monica Drum is anyone else's business but mine and Ms. Drum's. I have to believe that any other rational person would feel the same.

There is no law that I know of on the state or federal books that requires a person to answer any question posed to him by law enforcement regarding a romantic relationship. It simply doesn't make sense to me, and I feel as though it would benefit no one if I aired such private business in public. It would certainly not benefit Monica Drum, who is no longer with us to give her side of the story.

Third, many people have wondered why I have been "hiding out" since the discovery of Monica Drum's murder. I will now say that my actions were in the best interests of my own personal security. After all, if someone could murder one of my co-workers so effortlessly, could they not get to me just as easily?

I think they could, and I still do, and that is why I retreated from the public eye and kept a "low profile" as some said. I see nothing wrong with this at all. I was not willing to let myself become a human target for some disgruntled and obviously disturbed person who would be willing to kill me if he or she could.

If some people in Oxford do not understand my line of thinking in regard to this point, then I suppose that I can do little to convince them of my intentions. I only hope that those people are never in such a situation and have to make such a hard choice.

In closing, let me say that I appreciate all of the messages of support that I have received in the last two weeks. It heartens me to realize that I have many good friends in Oxford who have my welfare and best intentions in mind.

To those who still refuse to believe that I am innocent of any involvement in Monica Drum's murder, then I can only say to you that time will prove me innocent. The confession of Melvin Roberts should put many doubts to rest. If it does not, then his trial and probable conviction will.

Again, a thank-you to my supporters and friends in the Oxford and Yoknapatawpha community.

Sincerely,

Rick Hughes
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Dec 4, 2012

Store Owner Confesses to Editor's Shooting

Did karma finally get the Eagle's firebrand editor?

Melvin Roberts arrested
The YCSD released this mug shot of Melvin Roberts

Those of us who travel into Oxford and back have often stopped at Melvin's Nite Owl, the monolith of a convenience store located at the intersection of Highway 30 and North Lamar Avenue, at the north gateway into the town.

Owned by Melvin "Coach" Roberts for almost thirty years, the store grew from a small operation into a major competitor to Kroger and other grocery stores with its constant flow of traffic.

Much of that changed after March of 2007, when Roberts was falsely accused of rape by a sixteen-year-old baby-sitter. He was brought to trial and acquitted, but the publicity surrounding the case literally destroyed his store.

Now the place is but a hulking shell of its former glory, and an employee that we contacted said that she expected the place to close any day. On the day that we called, around twelve noon, she reported that she'd had three paying customers since 7:00 a.m. that morning.

Roberts, it seems, has a knack for getting himself into the papers, and it's always something that had to do with bad news. It now seems that he turned himself in to the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department yesterday evening and confessed to the murder of Monica Drum, the managing editor of the Oxford Eagle.

Drum was shot to death in her office early last Sunday morning.

Roberts cited a series of negative articles Monica Drum wrote at the time of his arrest and trial as his primary motive for the slaying, claiming that the articles severely damaged his reputation and hurt his business to the point of forcing him to put the once-bustling store on the market. But no one has expressed interest so far, according to Roberts, who said he's facing bankruptcy if a buyer can't be found.

Roberts is being held without bond at the Yoknapatawpha County Detention Center on East Jackson Avenue, pending further investigation. Sheriff's Department spokesperson Elizabeth Jones says that "the investigation at this time is centered around Mr. Roberts, due to his confession, but we need to collect a lot more evidence before we start talking about a conviction. With Mr. Roberts's past troubles in regard to the legal process, we must proceed very carefully with what he has told us and how we act on it."

Despite the confession, detectives apparently still want to talk to Rick Hughes, the paper's city reporter who had a tumultuous relationship with Drum, so maybe they're not confident that Roberts is their man.

Hughes spoke to the Planet from an undisclosed location. "I can't believe that they might think I would kill someone, especially Monica. At one point, I was in love with her. I would never hurt her. She got on my nerves, sure. But that happens with everyone. I'm not going to be anyone's scapegoat. I know that."

Hughes added that, in light of this confession by Roberts, he expects the persecution and gossip about him and his relationship with Drum to stop.

Hughes has retained prominent Oxford defense attorney Mark McGhee, who vowed when we talked to him that "this is not over. The sheriff's department must make a statement clearing my client. Their insinuations that he could have had any involvement in the brutal murder of someone he cared about borders on slander. We will be exploring our options for redress if Mr. Hughes is not immediately exonerated publicly the same way he was erroneously implicated."

Sheriff's Department officials did not return phone calls from the Planet requesting comments on Roberts's arrest and on Hughes and McGhee's statements.

Read more

Nov 30, 2012

When the News-Makers Become the News

Monica Drum
Monica Drum,
the late managing editor of the Oxford Eagle

Oxford newspaper gets embroiled in its own story

What happens when the news-makers become the news? What happens when those who write the stories suddenly turn into the story itself?

Such a quandary is developing in Oxford right now, where Rick Hughes, a city reporter for town newspaper The Oxford Eagle, is reportedly being sought for questioning in the murder of Monica Drum, the paper's managing editor.

Drum was found shot in her office on Sunday morning around 3:15 a.m. by security guard Ernie Parrish and YCSD officer A. L. Quinlan. Parrish heard gunshots while patrolling the press area in the back of the building on regular rounds and immediately called police, who arrived on the scene within minutes.

Drum was shot multiple times at close range, and some speculate that she probably knew her attacker.

Sheriff's department officials say that Hughes is a person of interest in the investigation at this time due to his long-standing relationship with Drum. Sources tell the Planet that Drum and Hughes had a vicious argument just 12 hours before her death.

Hughes, who spoke to the Planet from an undisclosed location, insists that he is innocent and says that even though he and Drum had what he terms as an "up and down" relationship, they had recently broken up for good and decided to remain just friends. He also claims that he has recently been binge drinking and blacking out with no recall of the evening before.

Some co-workers find the latter statement uncharacteristic. They claim Hughes is well-known for not partaking of alcohol in a town where drinking seems to be a preoccupation with much of the population, no matter the age.

But close colleagues and friends of Hughes tell quite a different story, alleging that the relationship between Drum and Hughes was punctuated by frequent arguing and fighting, and that Hughes had made some veiled threats in the last few weeks. Some say that their relationship had deteriorated to the point where either he or Drum would have to leave the paper.

Co-workers of Hughes also report that he claimed that he was "beginning to hate her," and that he would like to see her gone.

Hughes claims that such statements were taken out of context and that any arguments that he and Drum had in the office probably pertained to their work at the paper, and not their personal situation. Hughes says they often disagreed on both major and minor points concerning the paper's coverage of city news, especially pertaining to the recent election.

Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department officials take a different stance on Hughes's statements. An official inside the department says that based on testimony from various witnesses in regard to the relationship, Hughes and Drum most certainly took their personal lives into the office. Several examples bear this point out.

Hughes's sudden two-week vacation this summer was a direct result, witnesses claim, of Drum's demand that he leave her alone for a while, and she promptly sent him on a paid vacation to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, ostensibly to write an in-depth article on the ongoing recovery from the BP oil spill and the effect on the present-day economy, an article that never appeared.

In addition, a sheriff's official said, co-workers reported that on more than one occasion, Hughes and Drum were heard to argue loudly from inside her office.

One can only wonder how the newspaper, which was judged as mediocre for years and called an embarrassment by the very citizens it served, turned things around in a dramatic fashion to become such a respected journal in only three short years under the teamwork of Hughes and Drum, when for the entire time, a personal crisis was swirling around them and weaving its way in and out of the office and back home to closed doors.
Read more

Nov 9, 2012

Suspect arrested in Annette Wyatt slaying

Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff Department investigators on Thursday arrested a suspect in the Sept. 15 murder of Annette Wyatt.

Meg Lancaster, 30, of 15 Beauregard Circle in Oxford, was taken into custody shortly after 11 a.m., according to the Yoknapatawpha County Jail docket. A bond hearing hadn't yet been set.

"All I can say at this point is that we have arrested Miss Lancaster and will be formally charging her in connection with the murder of Miss Wyatt," said department spokeswoman Elizabeth Jones at a brief press conference Friday afternoon.

It's unclear when those charges will be filed. No attorney for Lancaster was listed as of late Friday.

Lancaster is employed as a receptionist at the Harte Agency, where Wyatt had worked until her death. Wyatt's body was found in the agency's University Avenue office by another colleague the morning of Sept. 16.

The coroner's office later ruled the death a homicide. Wyatt had suffered puncture wounds from a nail gun.

Harte Agency employees declined to talk to the Oxford Eagle after Lancaster's arrest, but other workers in the strip mall shared by the agency said squad cars had swarmed the area for a brief time that morning.

"Three or four police cars came speeding into the parking lot," said Tom Banks, the owner of Sweet Treats candy and chocolate shop, located next to the Harte Agency. "I didn't know what was going on, but then all these deputies busted into the Harte place and I figured it had something to do with that murder."

Banks said a small crowd of onlookers formed in the parking lot and soon the deputies emerged from the Harte Agency with a young woman in handcuffs.

"It was one of the girls that worked there," Banks said. "I think her name was Meg. She came into the shop once a week or so to get treats for her co-workers. Real nice girl. I can't imagine what she had to do with it."

No one answered the door at Lancaster's home. A neighbor, who declined to give her name, said the suspect had lived there for about one year and was always friendly.
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Sep 19, 2012

Detectives confirm nail gun as weapon

Suspicious car seen

The subject of a Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff Department murder investigation likely was killed with a nail gun, according to department spokeswoman Elizabeth Jones.

Jones confirmed the suspected murder weapon Tuesday, saying that the nail gun was found next to the body of real-estate agent Annette Wyatt on the floor of her office.

Wyatt was discovered dead Sunday by a colleague at the Harte Agency, located inside the strip mall at 1923 University Avenue.

She had what appeared to be at least one puncture wound in her neck, but Jones declined to speculate on the exact cause of death until receiving the coroner's report. It's unclear when that report will be completed and released to the public.

Owner of nearby business expresses safety concerns

In the meantime, Yoknapatawpha County investigators have been interviewing people associated with Wyatt and the Harte Agency. But, as of Tuesday, they haven't named any suspects or made any arrests connected with the case.

This is the fifth murder in Yoknapatawpha County since the start of the year, and residents say they're worried about their otherwise peaceful community turning so violent.

"It's frightening," said Tom Banks, who owns Sweet Treats in the strip mall next to the Harte Agency. "You walk around thinking you're safe, and then these murders keep happening."

Banks said he became even more concerned after learning the latest victim was killed next door to his shop.

"I guess no place is safe anymore," Banks said. "Not even here."

Banks described Wyatt as a pleasant woman who always smiled, waved and chatted with him and others in the strip mall. He said she'll be missed.

Victim's neighbors report suspicions

Wyatt's neighbors also expressed sadness, saying she was friendly and helpful.

"She made sure my yard was mowed all last summer when I was recovering from surgery," said Sylvia Phelps, who lives next door to Wyatt's residence.

Phelps had no idea who would kill Wyatt but said she became suspicious of a strange vehicle parked in the victim's driveway several times during the past few weeks.

"It would drive by her house slowly, then back up and drive by again," Phelps said. "Sometimes, the car would just sit there. I only saw the driver once, but it was at night, and I couldn't get a good look."

Doug Wright, who lives two houses down from Wyatt's residence, also remembers the car. He said it was a white sedan but didn't know the make or model.

When asked about the vehicle, Jones declined to say whether detectives knew about it.

"We are following all leads," Jones said. "That's all I can tell you."
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Sep 17, 2012

Oxford Realtor found dead Sunday

Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's detectives are investigating the suspected murder of an Oxford real-estate agent found dead at her office on Sunday.

Annette Wyatt
Annette Wyatt, 37, of 1044 Zilla Avent Road, Oxford, Mississippi, was discovered by a colleague on the floor of the Harte Agency, according to Elizabeth Jones, public information office for the Sheriff's Department.

The Harte Agency is located at 1923 University Avenue.

"We have no suspects at this time but are exploring all leads in this case," Jones said. "This is a top priority now for our investigators."

Jones declined to say how Wyatt had died but confirmed that investigators are treating the death as a homicide. She also said they're still working to determine a motive but that nothing appeared to have been missing from the office.

Several Harte Agency employees contacted by the Oxford Eagle on Sunday said Wyatt was killed by a nail gun.

Jones would neither confirm nor deny that.

"I still can't believe it's real," said Sofia Church, who described having found her colleague on the floor of the office's copy room. "There wasn't even that much blood. I thought she had collapsed from a heart attack or something."

Church said Wyatt had worked at the agency since it had opened and was one of its most productive employees.

"It's going to take us all awhile to come to grips with her death," Church said.

Owner Jeff Harte declined to comment for this story.

Wyatt, a graduate of the University of Mississippi, was active in Oxford's civic and charitable scenes. She was a frequent donor to the city's Art Fund and big a supporter of the local animal shelter, said Debbie Groth, director of the Downtown Oxford Association, which organizes numerous charity events throughout the year.

"I can't think of a better person," Groth said. "We all are deeply saddened. Annette truly will be missed by this community."

Neighbors of Wyatt’s expressed shock over the murder, calling it a senseless tragedy in an otherwise quiet community.

"It's such a sad, sad thing," said Doug Wright, who lives two houses down from Wyatt's residence. "Such a waste."

Wright said Wyatt wasn't married and has no children of which he’s aware.
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