Suspect in 2016 Cotton District murder pleads guilty

22-year-old Jaylen Barker of Columbus pleads guilty for November 2016 murder of MSU student Joseph Tillman in Starkville's Cotton District

District Attorney Scott Colom announced Wednesday in a press conference that the suspect apprehended for the 2016 Cotton District murder of a Mississippi State University student pled guilty to the lesser charge of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison.

22-year-old Jaylen Barker of Columbus, the defendant, was charged with capital murder for the Nov. 6, 2016 shooting of 21-year-old Joseph Tillman. According to Colom, because Barker openly confessed in court that he did indeed kill Tillman, a life sentence was granted, rather than the possible verdict of the death penalty if the case continued to trial. The defendant will be eligible for release at age 65 at the discretion of the judge during that time. Codefendants Syboris Pippins and Brandon Sherrod were charged with capital murder and accessory after the fact to capital murder, respectively, but Colom was unable to provide further information about the currently unresolved cases. 

Assistant District Attorney Scott Rogillio detailed the evidence that led to the charge. The morning of the crime, Barker was apprehended in his car at a traffic stop shortly after the robbery and shooting that resulted in Tillman’s death. Police reports indicate Barker, Pippins and Sherrod came from Columbus to the Cotton District on the night of Nov. 5. In the early morning hours of Nov. 6, Barker overheard another person having a conversation with Tillman and devised a plan to rob him. Barker asked for change for a $100 bill from Tillman and when Tillman pulled out his wallet, Pippins took the wallet and fled the scene. Tillman pursued Pippins and then returned to the scene of the robbery where he confronted Barker. Barker then shot and killed Tillman and fled the scene in his vehicle, in which he and the codefendants were apprehended shortly after by the Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Office. 

Colom expressed his gratitude for the hard work and dedication of all involved in bringing the defendant to justice, a difficult process the public often underestimates, he said. As no one was able to identify the suspects at the scene of the crime, arrests resulted from thorough investigative techniques and hard work on behalf of the officers involved. Colom also thanked Tillman’s family for their cooperation, support and patience throughout the process. 

The victim’s father, Collier Tillman, said a few words about his son and the diligence of the local police put forth in bringing the defendant to justice.

"We lost a lot when we lost Joseph. He was full of life and love and had a lot more to give. We and many others will always feel that loss but can rest in the assurance that justice has been served," Tillman said. 

Colom closed the press conference with a few remarks directed toward parents of Mississippi State students. 

"I want to emphasize to the parents across the state and across the country that send their children to Mississippi State with the understanding that the university is going to do everything in its power to keep their children safe, that Mississippi State, Starkville, they’re safe places," Colom said. "But unfortunately we have these rare instances where someone commits a crime. The life sentence was important because we need to make sure the public knows that we are going to do everything in our power to keep Mississippi State, Oktibbeha county, the 16thcircuit, a safe community, and if you decide to do something to make the community unsafe you need to be prepared to have a police department and a district attorney’s office that will do everything in their power to make sure you’re punished for it.” 

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