Crime

He was 15 when he killed for fair money. A Supreme Court ruling was his last shot at freedom.

Darwin "D.J." Wells was only 15 when he was the ringleader and triggerman in a high-profile Mississippi murder of a beloved Hattiesburg man.

When he got to prison to serve his sentence of life with parole for the depraved heart murder of Michael David Porter, court records show he became a validated member of the Gangster Disciples gang — or a security threat group, as corrections officials call it.

And even before the October 2008 robbery and killing outside a Moss Point convenience store, Wells had committed other crimes that had landed him a spot at the Jackson County Youth Detention Center.

Now 25, Wells thought he might have a chance at freedom one day, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling that said it was violation of the Eighth Amendment — which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment — to automatically sentence anyone 18 or younger to life for certain violent crimes, such as murder.

Judge Dale Harkey considered those factors before nixing Wells' hopes for a life outside prison walls.

In his order in May, Harkey noted how Wells was not some "inexperienced, immature teenager" when he shot and killed Porter to get some money to go the annual Jackson County Fair.

Wells, he said, for years as a minor had been an "active criminal, using drugs, selling drugs, hitting licks, stealing money and some guns and exhibiting antisocial behavior."

After his imprisonment, Wells was involved in another crime.

On March 16, 2016, the judge noted how Wells attacked and injured a Jackson County jailer that later prompted his guilty plea on a charge of simple assault on a police officer.

Though Wells told the judge he had "smashed out" of the gang, meaning he took a beating from fellow gang members to get out of the Gangster Disciples, the prison's rule violation reports show he had only been in a one-on-one fight with a fellow gang member in May 2013.

In addition, prison officials have issued 31 rule violation reports against Wells over the years for various infractions such as refusing to obey orders, possessing gang material in 2014 after he claimed to have ended his gang affiliation and three other occasions where guards caught him with weapons.

The violations included a threat to "gun down" a female corrections officer.

Wells and two others, Terry Hye Jr., then 15, and Telvin Benjamin, then 14, were charged in the murder. Wells organized the plan to "hit a lick" or rob someone to get money so he and his friends could go to the annual Jackson County Fair.

All three were convicted but during a retrial for Benjamin, a jury acquitted him of murder.

Hye's resentencing is still pending.

Porter's mother, Beverly Porter, declined to comment, saying she wished to wait until a decision was made in the resentencing in Hye's case.

District Attorney Tony Lawrence commended the judge's action.

“The events of October 23, 2008, still bring pain to the victim’s family," Lawrence said. "The acts that night were violent, senseless and unnecessary, and I am glad the victims can finally rest easy."

Margaret Baker 228-896-0538, @margar45
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