Bender charged with capital murder

A former Newton police officer will face multiple counts of murder after he allegedly opened fire at a Meridian residence, killing his fiancee and Meridian Police Officer Kennis Croom on Thursday night.

According to the US Marshal’s Service press release, D’Ante Marquez Bender, 31, was arrested at 10:15 a.m. Friday in Ackerman.

Bender is charged with first degree murder and capital murder, according to the Meridian Star. He was booked into the Lauderdale County Correctional Facility at 2:30 p.m. Friday.

After being arrested in Lauderdale County, WTOK-TV reporter Tom Williams asked Bender about the incident. During the exchange, Bender denied committing the crime.

“I didn’t,” Bender said on camera.

The incident happened on the 2,400th block of 51st Avenue in Meridian at the home of his fiancee, Brittany Jones, 30. Jones had previously resided in Newton County.

Meridian Police Chief Deborah Naylor Young told a news conference that her department received the call at 5:20 p.m. She said Croom was the first officer on the scene. He said one person was being held at gunpoint and a short time later shots were fired.

“The second officer who was called with Officer Croom arrived on the scene and reported that Officer Croom was down,” Young said at a press conference on Friday. “When officers checked the residence they discovered a female Brittany Jones inside with a gunshot wound. Ms Jones was pronounced dead at the scene.

Young said Croom was taken to a local hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

“This whole incident is tragic and senseless,” Young said. “Officer Kennis Croom lost his life doing what he loved, serving this community. He was full of passion, joy and dedication.

“Although yesterday was his day off, he chose to come and serve, which he was known to do on a regular basis.”

She also offered her condolences to Croom’s family and Jones’ family. She also asked for prayers for the department, families and community.

Immediately following the incident, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation issued a statewide blue alert looking for Bender.

Around this time, Newton County Sheriff Joedy Pennington said his deputies went to work looking for Bender.

“I called everyone and we looked everywhere for Bender,” Pennington said. “We weren’t going to stop until he was found. It is a tragic loss of life that should never have happened.

Pennington said he received help from the U.S. Marshal’s Office, the Mississippi Narcotics Bureau and the Newton Police Department. Pennington said he could not confirm whether Bender had ever been in Newton County between the time of the incident at Meridian and his capture at Ackerman.

At 9 a.m. Friday morning, the Choctaw County Sheriff’s Department received a tip that Bender may be located in their county. Just over an hour later, he was taken into custody behind an abandoned Cagle’s Corner in Ackerman, located at the freeway intersection. 12 and 15 about 75 miles north of his hometown of Newton and 80 miles from the alleged incident site.

The marshals were assisted by the Ackerman Police Department, the Choctaw County Sheriff’s Department, and the Mississippi Narcotics Bureau. They also confiscated a weapon that was in Bender’s possession at the time of the arrest and which they believe is the murder weapon.

Bender was then placed in the handcuffs that belonged to Croom before being transported back to Meridian, according to photos released by the Ackerman Police Department.

Bender had previously served as Newton’s police officer during two different administrations. City Clerk Charlene Evans confirmed that Bender served once under former police chief Harvey Curry and once under current police chief Randy Patrick.

According to the minutes of the January 18, 2022 meeting, the Newton Mayor and Aldermen’s Council voted to fire him from the Newton Police Department on Patrick’s recommendation.

The exact date Bender was terminated by Curry is not immediately known. Curry served as Chief of Police until 2019.

A memorial service for Officer Croom will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday at Meridian High School. A visitation will be held Friday from noon to 4 p.m. in Northport, Alabama, as well as an Alpha Phi Alpha Omega Fraternity ceremony at 6 p.m. Friday at the funeral home. A celebration of life will be held at 12:30 p.m. at Shelton State Community College and will be held in the state 90 minutes before the service.

Interment will be at Memory Hill Gardens in Tuscaloosa.

Monday afternoon, the arrangements had not been fixed Brittany Jones. According to a local funeral home, her body has not yet been returned to the family.

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