Crime

Suspect in Waffle House shooting pleads not guilty

TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD 
 Johnny Max Mount leaves court after a hearing in December. He has been indicted on a murder charge in the Nov. 27 shooting death of Waffle House Waffle House server Julie Brightwell in Biloxi.
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD Johnny Max Mount leaves court after a hearing in December. He has been indicted on a murder charge in the Nov. 27 shooting death of Waffle House Waffle House server Julie Brightwell in Biloxi. SUN HERALD

BILOXI -- The man accused in the killing of a Waffle House server has pleaded not guilty.

Johnny Max Mount will go on trial Feb. 13 in the murder of Julie Brightwell.

Brightwell, 52, was shot in the head about 1 a.m. Nov. 27 at the 24-hour diner on U.S. 90 just west of the Mississippi Coast Coliseum. She had told Mount he couldn't smoke his e-cigarette in the restaurant, according to previous reports.

Brightwell had worked for Waffle House eight years and had worked at that particular restaurant nearly 1 1/2 years. Waffle House officials, co-workers and friends have said she was a beloved employee, good with customers and was a friend to many.

Her supervisor was among those who were at the Harrison County courthouse on Monday for Mount's arraignment.

Mount, 45 and a former firefighter, was brought in to Circuit Court in a wheelchair and wearing a jail inmate uniform. He lost a leg and suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2002 when struck by a vehicle while he stood in the middle of U.S. 49 in Gulfport, a friend has told the Sun Herald.

Preparing a defense

Mount pleaded not guilty before Judge Lisa Dodson during the brief hearing. When asked how he wished to plead, Mount said, "not guilty" in a quiet voice.

His attorney, Jim Davis, said he wasn't ready to go to trial yet.

Davis said he has been gathering information to prepare for Mount's defense and said, "He does have a history."

"It's very severe head trauma," Davis said after court.

Davis said it will be a time-consuming process "to develop a comprehensive paper trail on this individual's entire history so you will know things that affect his mental capabilities."

Mount had no felony arrests until Biloxi police filed a first-degree murder charge in Brightwell's slaying. He had been a Biloxi firefighter for ten years until he was injured 14 years ago.

Video showed shooting

Officers of the court who have viewed surveillance video from the shooting have said Mount was seated at the counter when he pulled out a handgun from his waistband. Brightwell ducked behind the counter, but Mount stood up and leaned over the counter to shoot her, police said.

She died of a single gunshot wound to the head.

A Harrison County grand jury indicted Mount on a charge of murder by deliberate design.

The penalty for conviction is life in prison without parole.

Mount is held on a $2 million bond.

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