Jackson County

Did a Pascagoula man commit suicide in 1975? New TV show questions case

Tye Breland, second from right, with his wife and friends.
Tye Breland, second from right, with his wife and friends.

Did Tye Breland, 22, kill himself in 1975?

A team of forensic specialists with Oxygen.com’s “Cold Justice” looked at the 42-year-old cold case and have helped bring out details that Pascagoula police didn’t expect.

The episode, “Cold Justice: Beyond the Grave,” aired Saturday and has been airing ever since on Channel 1114 on Cable One in Pascagoula or at oxygen.com/cold-justice.

It looks at the death of Breland, who was shot in the bedroom of his Pascagoula apartment. His death was listed as a suicide, based on what his wife of less than a year told officials at the time. She was the only witness.

Because Breland’s death happened in a year when the city was bombarded with three high-profile murders, police said, Breland’s death wasn’t investigated.

Breland’s family, however, said on the show they never believed he killed himself. They kept the case alive, even though Hurricane Katrina took the files in 2005 and the gun is now gone.

What is said on the “Cold Justice” segment is that the wife’s story changed through the years, and that Pascagoula’s Lt. Darren Versiga said he believes he and the CJ team have uncovered enough to present to a Jackson County grand jury.

“Let the people of Jackson County look at it,” Versiga said.

How the new investigation started

Oxygen.com contacted Jackson County prosecutors looking for a cold case, and Pascagoula’s Versiga offered them several, including Breland’s death.

The team picked Breland and came to Pascagoula to exhume his body, bring in a ballistics expert, and use the fresh perspective of prosecutor and headliner Kelly Siegler, an independent investigator and a medical examiner.

“Cold Justice” is billing it as the oldest case they’ve tackled. It starts with a warning about watching the digging up and opening of his casket.

One piece of evidence that survived is a recording of the coroner’s inquiry where Breland’s wife — now Kathie Short of Hancock County — said her husband was in a good mood, was lying on the bed with his arms behind his head and asked her to get him a glass of water. She was recorded within hours of the death and told the coroner that she left the room to get the water and heard a shot.

Police found him dead on the floor at the foot of the bed. The sawed-off, 410 shotgun was on the bed.

The new investigation determined he was shot in the chest from a distance of about 6 inches. It also questioned where the gun was found in relation to his body.

But one investigator in the show said, “What matters is her ever-changing story of that night.”

‘Cold cases are never dead’

The show interviewed family members, as well as people who had heard Short’s versions of the story over the years. One version was that he was twirling the gun, one that he was cleaning it and another that he shot himself on purpose, but didn’t mean to kill himself.

Versiga has talked with Kathie Short. He said, “She knows where we’re at. We will present it all to the district attorney.”

He said, “Her attorney contacted me and asked why we were digging it up. I said, ‘It’s a cold case. Cold cases are never dead.’”

The Sun Herald was unable to contact Short. Her attorney, Gail Nicholson, sent an excerpt from an interview where she says, “there is absolutely no merit to these allegations.” Nicholson said she’s known Short professionally for years and “She’s a responsible, good citizen. That death was ruled a suicide more than 40 years ago and that’s all it was and all it will ever be.

“These people ought to be ashamed of themselves for the emotional distress they are causing Kathie and her family in putting together this piece of fiction that was on television,” Nicholson said.

In later years, Short married a cardiologist in Harrison County, Dr. D.H. Short, and inherited his and his mother’s estate when they died, according to the “Cold Justice” episode.

She is listed on the website as a member of the Board of Trustees of Gulfport Memorial Hospital.

Jackson County District Attorney Tony Lawrence issued a statement that said he will fully evaluate the information developed by Versiga, Pascagoula police and “Cold Justice” and decide on the next step, if any.

He said his decision may include presenting it to a grand jury, further investigation “or closing the case for lack of sufficient legally admissible evidence.”