Jan 17, 2017

Two arrests in Stover case

Investigators: Plots converged in ex-con theatre director's death

Two arrests in death of Oxtales director
Two suspects have been arrested in connection with the death of controversial theatre director Andrea Stover, who investigators say was the victim of separate murder plots in the hours before her death on January 2nd.

Romantic jealousy

Detectives arrested Ursula Raines, a physical therapist, earlier today on murder charges. She is currently being held at the Yoknapatawpha County Detention Center.

Raines, 31, allegedly argued with Stover at Oxford Centre on N. Lamar Blvd. shortly after midnight on January 2nd, according to Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department Public Information Officer Elizabeth Jones. Investigators believe that confrontation led to Stover’s fatal plunge from a skywalk in the office complex’s atrium.

Jones would not comment on Raines’ possible motive, but sources familiar with the investigation claim Raines resented Stover’s close friendship with Gretchen Doyle, Raines’ partner. Doyle could not be reached for comment.

Professional jealousy

Yesterday, investigators arrested Dale King on attempted murder charges. He was released this morning after posting bail of $15,000 and is scheduled to be arraigned February 7th.

King is assistant director of Oxtales Theatre, where Stover was the director, and reportedly was unhappy about being ousted from his position as leader of the theatre troupe by Stover’s return.

An employee of the Garden Center, King is charged with using home-grown rhubarb to poison a dessert he served to Stover at an Oxtales rehearsal the evening of January 1.

Although rhubarb leaves are toxic when ingested, King likely had not used enough rhubarb to cause Stover's death, said Jones.

Not guilty pleas expected

King did not respond to requests for comment, but his attorney, Rex Mickles, said his client will fight the charges.

"The DA is going way too far," said Mickles, himself a former assistant district attorney. "Dale was nowhere near the crime scene, and what he did wouldn't have resulted in anything more than a bellyache."

Pam Sutler, president of the Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights Action Committee of Mississippi, said the group will fund Raines' defense, claiming Raines is the victim of discrimination and has been wrongly accused.

"Ursula Raines' only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time," Sutler said.

Activist group denies responsibility

Stover, 29, first made headlines in February 2015, when she was arrested for disseminating sexually oriented material to minors after parents objected to their teens’ involvement as stage crew volunteers for a sexually explicit Oxtales production. Stover was convicted in May 2015 and served an 18-month sentence at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl, MS.

Since Stover's release in December, Concerned Oxford Parents (COP), a community watchdog group that works to protect local children and monitors local sex offense cases, has been distributing flyers about Stover to neighbors and local parents.

Despite the publicity, COP president Ben Morgan said the organization is blameless in Stover's death.
"We did what we had to do to keep our community safe," Morgan said. "We never promote violence, but do promote citizens' awareness."

While she refused to comment directly about the COP organization, Jones confirmed that investigators are not searching for additional suspects in the case.
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Jan 2, 2017

Controversial artist found dead in office complex

Foul play suspected in ex-con's death

Oxtales director found dead at Oxford Centre
Andrea Stover, whose 2015 theatre production "Snopes" resulted in a prison term on sex crime charges, was found dead this morning in an atrium at Oxford Centre on North Lamar.

Initial indications suggest Stover fell 25 feet from the skywalk connecting the buildings of the office complex, according to Yoknapatawpha Sheriff's Department Public Information Officer Elizabeth Jones.

Sheriff's deputies arrived on the scene shortly before 8:30 a.m. in response to a 911 call from an office worker who discovered the body on the way into work.

Jones said the death is being investigated but declined to disclose any details about the circumstances surrounding Stover's death, citing the ongoing investigation.

Jones would not say whether Stover's death is thought to be an accident, a homicide or a suicide. However, a source close to the investigation told Crime Beat that detectives do believe foul play was involved.

Victim courted controversy

Stover, a Taylor performance artist, was released on December 5, 2016, after completing an 18-month sentence at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl, MS.

She was convicted in June 2015 of disseminating sexually oriented material to minors after parents of three teenagers who volunteered as stage technicians for "Snopes" saw a video of the production and filed charges.

The production was one of several controversial works masterminded by Stover, who colleagues say tackled difficult issues through her choice of sexually explicit works.

"It wasn't about the controversy," said Dale King, assistant director of the Oxtales Theatre. "Andrea was taking on huge issues — rape, interracial romance in the Jim Crow era, gay rights, sexual taboos. Sometimes they aren't pretty to look at, but she brought them out into the light."

King, who served as acting director during Stover's prison term, said she was working on a new piece when she died. The group has put production on hold temporarily, he added.

"It's a huge blow to us and to the artistic community as a whole," King said.

But Stover's critics say her productions were the sign of a deranged mind at work.

Critics voiced strong opposition

"Anyone who would expose teenagers to sex acts like she did was clearly a dangerous psychotic," said Ben Morgan, president of Concerned Oxford Parents (COP), a community watchdog group that works to protect local children and monitors local sex offense cases.

COP, which was headed in 2015 by current Oxford Mayor Claire Windham, advocated the maximum sentence of a 3-year prison term and $15,000 fine for Stover. Since her release, COP has been distributing flyers about Stover to neighbors and local parents in what Morgan describes as an effort to keep the community safe.

"People need to know when sex offenders move into their hometown," said Morgan. "The information is public. We just help get the word out."

Morgan denied that his group's work might have incited someone to an act of vigilante justice against Stover.

"We don't advocate violence," he said. "We do advocate putting pressure on local authorities to protect our citizens. To my mind, we had the right to let her know she wasn't wanted here."

Stover is survived by her parents, Abbeville residents Jerry and Irene Stover. They declined to speak about their daughter's death. Funeral services will be held in private, with a memorial service planned for later this month.
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Stover drew praise, ire for explicit works

Stover drew praise, ire
Performance artist and Oxtales Theatre director Andrea Stover, who was found dead this morning at Oxford Centre, was no stranger to controversy — even before a 2015 production landed her in prison on sex crime charges.

Stover first made headlines in 2007, when her play "Sade and the Serpent" offended some audience members because of its explicit language. Local church groups picketed the show's two-week run at the Oxford Community Center, and 400 residents signed a petition protesting the performance being held on city property, but the Oxford City Council refused to shut it down.

In 2009, Stover created another controversy when she was invited to stage Shakespeare's "Hamlet" at the University of Mississippi. The production included full frontal nudity and simulated non-consensual sex between the title character and Queen Gertrude, his mother.

Academicians questioned Stover's interpretation of the text, while residents again protested the use of public funds for controversial works.

"What we've seen that's upsetting is the government sponsoring her lewd productions," said former Oxford resident Patricia Doyle, who headed several picketing campaigns against Stover. "It's like the Playboy magazine getting a grant. It's just not right."

Doyle — whose group, Mothers for Decency in Art, disbanded in 2011 when Doyle moved to Texas — also organized picket and boycotting campaigns for Stover's 2010 play "Boot Slaves" at the Stone Center, which was partially funded by a grant from the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, and for Oxtales Theatre's interpretation of "The Story of O," which received a Mississippi Arts Commission grant.

Public enemy? Maybe. Critical darling? Definitely.

But while Stover attracted local censure, she also garnered praise from theatre critics.

"Her productions were well-executed. They asked a lot of questions without sacrificing plot or character," said New Orleans Times-Picayune theatre writer Leonard Chabeaux, who began reviewing Stover's work in 2012. "She was a maverick along the lines of Annie Sprinkle."

With her growing notoriety — and commercial success — Stover took bigger risks, such as the 2011 performance piece "leather $ale," an explicit verse recitative accompanied by a slide show of male prostitutes.

But Stover's most controversial piece was the 2015 "Snopes," which depicted an imagined love affair between William Faulkner and the daughter of his African-American nanny, Callie Barr, and included partial nudity as well as simulated heterosexual and homosexual sex.

The production also led to Stover's conviction and imprisonment after parents of three teenagers who volunteered as stage technicians for "Snopes" saw a video of the production and filed sex-crime charges.

According to Oxtales Theatre assistant director Dale King, the production Stover was working on when she died would have been at least as controversial as her previous works.
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