Jimmie “Jay” Lee, 20, went missing from his student housing complex in Oxford early on the morning of July 8, 2022. Police believe he was murdered, but the whereabouts of Lee’s body remain unknown. Sheldon Timothy Herrington, a graduate of Ole Miss as the University of Mississippi is also known, was arrested in late July and now faces a capital murder charge in the case. Prosecutors allege Herrington strangled Lee to cover up their sexual relationship and say they have more than enough evidence to convict Herrington without a body.
The case against Herrington is now scheduled for October 15, 2024.
According to court documents, the two men were involved in a discreet sexual relationship even though Lee was out. While remaining in the closet, Herrington was also active in the Abundant Life Assembly, an Apostolic Christian church founded by his grandfather where his father Sheldon is an assistant pastor.
Prosecutors theorize that Herrington killed Lee because he feared their relationship might become public. Among the circumstantial evidence they will present at trial, they say Herrington bought duct tape and a large trash can from a local Walmart and made an internet search for “how long does it take to strangle someone gabby petito.”
Snapchat messages contained in court documents reportedly show Herrington lured Lee to his death with the promise of reciprocating oral sex, an issue of contention between the two young men, according to reporting by Mississippi Today. Lee reportedly had his suspicions about Herrington’s intentions, though, suggesting he was “just tryna lure me over there to beat my ass or something,” to which Herrington replied, “you trippin.” Lee was simultaneously messaging another friend about the conversation, including his intention to hook up because of the promise of oral sex, although not specifically identifying Herrington. Lee was never heard from again, and the friend later contacted police and helped in the investigation.
Surveillance footage obtained by investigators showed Lee departing his apartment and going to Herrington’s apartment shortly after the conversation. Lee’s car was later captured on video driving to the Molly Barr Trails student housing. The car was towed from that location later that day.
Surveillance footage also showed a person matching Herrington’s description jogging away from the scene not long after the car’s arrival even though the jogger was not seen entering the area. The same jogger was later captured on video entering a white Kia Optima at a nearby gas station. That car was pulled over for a traffic citation a short time later and Herrington was later confirmed as a passenger in the Optima by the driver.
Herrington was later seen in surveillance footage visiting his parent’s house with a company truck to pick up a wheelbarrow and a shovel.
Prosecutors theorize that Herrington strangled Lee in his apartment, drove Lee’s car to Molly Barr Trails where it was abandoned, jogged from the scene, and later used his company’s truck to dispose of Lee’s body.
When police questioned him later that month, Herrington admitted to a casual relationship with Lee but claimed no knowledge of his whereabouts. K-9 dogs trained to detect the presence of cadavers alerted four times in Herrington’s apartment – once in the living room and three times in the bedroom. Herrington was arrested and held without bond until he filed suit demanding his release on bail.
According to friends, Lee performed regularly at Code Pink, the college town’s local drag night, under the name Jay Divaa, and was active in the local LGBTQ+ community.
Investigators believe his body is somewhere in Lafayette or Grenada County, but that it is not needed to obtain a conviction at trial. Tiffany Kilpatrick, Lafayette County Assistant District Attorney, argued in court last year that police had enough evidence to bring charges without a body.
“In 2022 you do not need a body,” Kilpatrick told the court at the time, according to Mississippi Today. “It’s not the 1870s."
If convicted, Herrington faces life in prison without parole or the death penalty.