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As the coronavirus swept into the Mississippi Delta, a judge in the small city of Indianola decided to release every inmate she had in jail. That is every inmate except one.


This is in the dark coronavirus in the delta. I'm Madeleine Baron. I spent the past few months, along with the rest of it in the dark team reporting on coronavirus in the Mississippi Delta, the poorest part of Mississippi and one of the poorest places in the entire country.


In the series, we're bringing you stories of people trying to live in this really hard time, trying to make decisions, trying to get by in a situation that none of us have faced before in this episode, the story of a guy looking for some everyday justice at a time when the justice system is closed for business. Episode five, Jeno. When the pandemic hit, we started wondering what it was like to be in jail right now, especially if you're just sitting there on a low level charge like a lot of people are right now.


So our reporter Parker Yasko decided to find out she'll take over from here. It's not the easiest thing to get in contact with people in jail or even sometimes to know who's in jail, but a few jails and Mississippi post their rosters online. So I was looking at a list of all the people who were locked up in a city called Indianola. And I landed on the booking page of a guy named Eugene McShane.


The website said that he was 44 years old. He was in on a shoplifting charge and he'd already been in for a few weeks at that point, which seemed like a long time. And unlike most mug shots, his made him look kind of friendly. He was gazing straight at the camera with a sort of smile. And I thought, why not? Let me try to give him a call.


Buffalo County Jail.


Hey there. I was trying to get in touch with an inmate, Eugene McShane. I wasn't really sure that this was going to work. Who's calling? My name is Parker Yasko. I mean, are you an attorney, anything? No. OK, so one moment, one moment, ma'am. Thanks. Hello, hello, hello. Hi, is this Mr. McCrary? Oh, yes, yes, it is. Mr. McShane. Yes, ma'am.


Suddenly I had this guy on the phone, the guy I knew basically nothing about. Hey, uh, good to talk to you. I'll tell you why I'm calling. My name is Parker. I'm a reporter with Public Radio. And I was just hoping to talk to some folks that were in jail. I just saw your name and your picture up on the Sunflower County website. Yes, ma'am. And thanks for talking. I understand this is completely random that I've called you Rose.


And that's how I started talking to Eugene Mitchell McShane screenName Zemo G.P.A. Genos Story starts in the first week of February.


A deadly coronavirus outbreak was spreading across China. But here in the United States, things still felt kind of normal. And on February 6th, a Thursday afternoon, Gino walked into a Wal-Mart Supercenter 347 in Indianola, Mississippi, and made a decision that would land him in jail at the worst possible time, which is to show some relief.


I really do somewhat some relief for me. Yes, about two factors makes the stakes were ribeyes, three of them worth about 36 bucks.


He'd stuck them in his coat and walked out. Did you have a plan for the stakes?


Are you going to do them for people who want to go there, see them, but saw over there and get away with a lot of time?


Why was it the stakes that that that gripped to you like that?


Cause, I mean, was that at least and I looked at the state as slipped out because they were come since I could afford it. So there were stupid things they just had to take. But the all state just had like I had control over you. It sounds like you could see there.


After Geno stole the stakes, a judge signed a warrant for his arrest and that warrant caught up with him a few weeks later on March 18th. It was at the exact moment when the pandemic was spreading into every corner of the United States when everybody started talking about flattening the curve and when Mississippi's governor was declaring a state of emergency. But instead of sheltering at home, Gino found himself sheltering at the Sunflower County jail this Christmas.


I know why somebody broke into Virginia. We are probably infected and we're trapped in here and their kids in deals with the idea that somehow. When I first talked to Gina, he'd been in jail for three weeks already and he knew that his only hope of getting out was for the judge to grant him release or bail, but his court dates with her kept getting cancelled.


I had a court date two weeks ago, but I couldn't go. Gina had actually been due in court again that very morning at 9:00 a.m., but nine had come and gone to like case.


And I feel like I to go and go to I think, you know, trying to convince myself like one o'clock they may come get me, but they didn't. That's what I know. This ain't going to cause I got my favorite who are looking at it now. And I was shown the glass that was shown in jail, Administrator Leavesley, Larry, like, OK, if they call for you and get you to court, nobody called. Nobody comes to fix you up.


So he knows he came to me. And now I don't know when do I go to court.


What Gino is starting to suspect accurately, it turns out, was that the municipal court was shut down the building, the scheduled hearings, all of it because of the coronavirus. And Jeno didn't really have anyone to help him figure this out.


He didn't have a lawyer because the way it works, he wouldn't get a lawyer until he got a court appearance, but he couldn't get a court appearance because the court was closed with no court appearance, no lawyer, but no judge, no release.


And so Gino was stuck.


Three weeks had passed already, three weeks over three states, and now the weeks seem to be stretching into infinity.


Could you please help me with this? I'm just here on the subject. Sure.


If for no other reason than to do it here tomorrow, I I'll try and call the court and just like ask them what's going on.


I sure do appreciate. I can give you the Tuesday. Yeah. That's the judge's name. Miss Cogan's.


Almost the next morning I requested genos case file from the city court clerk and then I left a voicemail for Judge Kirkendall Murray. She called me a few hours later.


Hi, this is Parker.


Hey, this is Kirkconnell Murray, the judge in the central county, Mississippi.


Hey, Judge Murray, how are you doing? Hey, I'm good. I also have I've got a conference call. Our police chief for the city of Indianola, Eric Hall, is also on the line.


Oh, you're on the line right now. Yes, he's on the line as well. Emerging it. Are you there? I'm here for doing so. Can I ask a preliminary question? OK, so it's my understanding from city clerk, from the airport clerk that you had made a request for the records of Eugene McShane.


Yes. OK, well, the police chief can can give you the background of Mr. McShane, if you would like it seem that my random inmate was not so random after all.


The reason why the judge asked me here, and not only have I been chief write for years prior to that, I worked here for eight years, as well as as an investigator, as a sergeant of numerous roads. Mr. McShane has been arrested several times. He has had several from 1995 through this year.


He 23 alone to hear the police chief describe him. Gino was no everyday sticky fingers. He was notorious. And according to Judge Murray, he'd become the scourge of her little municipal court. Her docket was just filled with Gino. Judge Murray told me that she's not the type of person who thinks jail is the answer for everyone, when the coronavirus came along, she did what a lot of judges around the country have been doing. She released a bunch of people.


Yes. When the when the pandemic first began, I went out to the county jail and in consultation with animal police department and with the sheriff, we went through the jail roster and we suspended sentences.


Judge Murray couldn't empty the entire jail. She was only in charge of some of the inmates. But she let out a shoplifter like Gina and a forger and a man brought in for disorderly conduct and a woman booked for assault and not one, but two domestic abusers.


Why was it important at that point to release those folks, because for the safety of the people that work at the jail. For the safety of the people that had committed misdemeanors. For their safety, for the people that are released, for their safety. I don't want them in a situation where they're confined to a space with other people and they didn't tell anybody. They didn't rape anybody. They just made a mistake. They thought they had somebody who's tired of whatever it is they a.


By the time Judge Murray had finished going through the list of all her city inmates, there was just one man who she decided didn't deserve her mercy.


The only person that is serving time at the city of Indianola for misdemeanors, Mr. McShane, everyone else has been released. He's the only one in jail now. I think he's the only inmate we have out there serving a misdemeanor sentence. I can't let him help me, not not with his history. What could possibly be in this guy's history, I wondered? Here's the answer, Gino's record is long, 141 misdemeanor charges over the last 25 years or so, but nothing to indicate that he's some sort of criminal mastermind.


What kind of tendencies do the records indicate?


Well, Dino has a tendency for stake before the rabbi is. There were the strip stakes in August 2013, a Jeno quote shoved down his red pants and the T bones in November of that year, such a big hole that he had to split it between his pants and his coat and the five packs of stakes in 2019 that he smartly slipped into Wal-Mart shopping bags before exiting the store. And while he seemed to have a clear preference for Wal-Mart's meat selection, so much so that he'd actually been banned from the store, he wasn't above paying a visit to the double quick gas station when he wanted four cans of Vienna sausages down the pants again in summer 2013 or sardines the year after.


Gino did appear to be a prolific shoplifter and he was caught with pot once and a pipe a few times. Judge Murray had actually sent him to rehab before, but as far as I can tell, it had been over 20 years since Gino had been convicted of a felony and those were mostly car thefts when he was in his teens.


But there was one more thing that seemed to be pushing Judge Murray's frustration with Chino over the edge just a few weeks earlier, she'd actually let jeno out of jail, the very thing she was so loath to do now after he'd promised her that he'd change his ways, the condition for releasing him was that he committed no new crimes.


And what did you do? Judge Murray said he got right out and stole again March 18th.


He got new charges. He was arrested by one of the officers for shoplifting.


Judge Murray was a little hazy on the specifics of what happened that day. And I didn't have the police report yet.


The shoplifting incident on the 18th. Do you know where that was and what that was? I don't, but I'm assuming it was Wal-Mart, his favorite place to go is Wal-Mart, so I'm assuming it was Wal-Mart. It was so easy for her to picture it that she didn't seem to need the details, and since Geno had broken his promise to her, that made him a thief and a liar, too.


But still, it was hard for me to imagine how Gina posed a bigger threat to public safety than the threat the coronavirus posed to him. And I said so to Judge Murray.


But I guess the thing that still sort of doesn't make sense to me is, is, you know, at some point you're making a judgment about who you're comfortable living in a jail during a time of a pandemic. And I guess I don't understand how he meets that threshold.


Gina didn't kill anybody or rape anybody. I mean, he's being held on a shoplifting charge.


Mr. Shane is a menace to the society. I'll have to run in just a second. I've got a meeting, OK? I mean, I get what you're saying, but it's like given the pandemic, I mean, like. He could die in there being held on a shoplifting charge. Judge. Hello. Hello. Do you know, called me the same day I talked to Judge Murray. He was still in jail, still wondering when he'd get his day in court.


Hey, Gino. Hey, how are you doing? Good. How are you doing? I don't know. Okay. Do you know? Did not sound OK. He sounded bummed. He was sitting in the cellblock at the back of the jail and he'd heard that Judge Murray was in the building meeting with her latest crop of inmates and releasing them to Gino could hardly believe it. She let a man go. He had to show and he got a car with two glasses with 100000 of convicted felons, and she just let him go.


This was true. I checked the records. The judge actually let out two inmates that day, a felon who'd been caught with a firearm and a guy who'd violated a protective order. Later, she released a man who'd been arrested with a gun. He'd been in a shootout where a woman had been murdered. He'd spent only a couple of days in jail. Gino at that point had been in for almost a month. And I'm just here. Or if she didn't have to see me or anything.


A few days later, Gina called again to tell me that the judge had come back. Gino had sensed a fleeting opportunity. He flagged down an inmate who was walking towards the judge. So I bet it made a little immature. And so you handed the inmate a notice. He headed up to meet the judge. What did the note say? What is he saying? Could I please see you? He couldn't think of anything else to do or say.


He didn't have a lawyer who could fight to get him into court. And the judge was right there at the jail right then. And I never got it out. You didn't hear anything back? I know he gave her the note. He said she did say that. She did respond to it. I told Gino that I had a chance to talk about his situation with Judge Murray. The judge said she said that she has released everyone else, all of the other city inmates except for you, Oliver.


That's what she told me when I told Gino that the judge said that he'd broken his promise to her, that she thought he'd stolen something else after he told her he'd steal no more. But he said that wasn't true. But I haven't committed no more, Clara. I haven't got a choice since she released me. She seemed to think that on March 18th when you got arrested, that it was for a new shoplifting. Is that. Oh, no, no.


No matter. Gino said that on March 18th, he wasn't anywhere near Wal-Mart. He was out on the street when a fight broke out near by. The cops showed up. They ran his name and they found an old Wal-Mart steak warrant. That was it. So a shooting. And I had a little charge. Right now, I have no idea have armed with charges. The whole warrant thing was confusing to me, to Gino, and certainly it seems to judge Murray.


But Gino actually had a point. I got the records. There was no March 18th Wal-Mart incident, just the old warrant on the street. Since Judge Murray had last released him from jail, there was no record of Gina shoplifting, anything at all at Wal-Mart or anywhere else. Do you know, had messed up many times, but this wasn't really one of them in a certain kind of sense, he was in jail during a pandemic because of a misunderstanding.


I called George Murray a couple of times to talk to her about the warrant, but she didn't answer, I even sent her an email. I think there may have been a miscommunication that I can help to clear up. I wrote she never responded. As time dragged on, new inmates came into the jail and inmates were released, but Jeno remained a constant. His stakes kept him stuck until on the sixth day of his eighth week behind bars. The municipal court announced that it would at long last reopen the next day.


It all felt a bit slapdash. No one at the court seemed sure how they'd manage it, but genos hearing was slated for the next morning. He'd finally get his date with Judge Murray.


That's after the break. I couldn't go to Gino's court date myself since I had a stay at home order a thousand miles north in Minnesota, so I called a reporter in the Delta, Barry Doyle, and he agreed to drive out to the courthouse. He had an end 95 mask at the ready.


It's just after 10:00 a.m. here in downtown Indianola. I'm standing outside of the city court.


The tiny court building looked like a cottage from the front, just a door and two narrow windows. There was a piece of paper taped to the entrance explaining that the court had been closed due to the coronavirus. Its edges were all curled up. There had been weeks of wind and humidity since the court had last been in session. There was no sign of Jeno until one 30 in the afternoon, he arrived in a police cruiser and was quickly led into the building by a cop.


Rory was let in shortly after someone took Rory's temperature at the door and he walked into the courtroom. But a few minutes after that, he was back outside calling me, hey, holy crap, what happened?


Rory had gone into the courtroom. He'd seen you up in the front row on the right side where he couldn't see his face. He was looking straight ahead. Rory sat down on the left at least 15 feet from any other human. There was more than enough space to social distance, but all of a sudden, a masked woman at the front of the courtroom started yelling for him to leave.


Just kind of lasted through a little bit of temper. It said only necessary personnel can be in here. I asked, do I not have a First Amendment right to be here?


Just as an aside here, Murray was correct. He did have a First Amendment right to be there. Criminal proceedings are public. And the Mississippi Supreme Court had issued orders specifically saying that even in the pandemic, the press was to be allowed in courtrooms.


Nevertheless, she started yelling at everyone outside and did not react at all during any of this.


No, just sat there, had a mask on and never got close to her and never talked to him. Pretty sure he was as confused as I was. So genos, long awaited court hearing took place in private with no way for us or anyone else to know what was happening inside. Afterwards, Murray tried to ask himself, but a cop escorted back to the police cruiser. The cop said he was taken back to jail. He tried to talk to Judge Murray, but she just pursed her lips as she walked towards her car and shook her head.


The city prosecutor walked out and Rory went over to her with a cell phone. He held it out with me on the line so I could try to talk to her. She was flustered maybe by the events of the day or maybe by the fact that a faraway reporter had sent another reporter to a mundane shoplifting hearing in the middle of a pandemic. I, on the other hand, was annoyed that we'd been barred from the courthouse, which had made it incredibly difficult to figure out even the most basic things about what had gone on inside.


I was hoping the woman who had just prosecuted Gina for a steak theft would be able to fill me in. I'm just wondering what Gina said to you in there, what Mr. McShane said.


Well, what do you mean what he's saying? He didn't say anything. He pled guilty to his his two charges. And then the judge, uh, you know, entered a judgment. Of course, what was the sentence? Alberto, what what what happened today? Is the answer that, no, she didn't sentence him. She's the gun the prosecutor walked away. The next day, my phone rang hello. Hello, hello, hello.


I'm sorry to reach oh, this I'm not sure the young lady's name, but I'm trying to reach a news reporter that that might be helpful.


It sounds like it. My name is Parker. I'm a reporter.


You are a reporter. So are you the reporter that has reached out to local court officials concerning Mr. McShane over in in the city?


Yes, this is the municipal prosecutor, attorney Alicia Tom.


Alicia Thomas, it turns out, was the masked woman who had kicked our reporter, Rory, out of the courtroom.


You frustrated me yesterday. Uh huh. It was a frustrating day for both of us, I think we had hoped to be able to to have our reporter in on the hearing. Thomas said that the court's first day back in session had gone off the rails pretty much from the get go, didn't go to well yesterday the court employees had been trying to enforce social distancing, trying to keep down the number of people in the courthouse at any one time.


But the people that had shown up for court dates weren't necessarily familiar with these new rules and some were having trouble following them.


We had too many people. There were people coming in and out of there. They should not have been.


According to Thomas, the situation had reached peak fiasco when the person whose job it was to take people's temperatures at the door had actually knowingly let in a guy with a fever.


The guy was there with his wife on a domestic violence charge. He told the temperature taker he'd been roasting while waiting in his hot car, and he somehow convinced her that instead of kicking him out, she should let him in to cool down inside of the courthouse. It was right about the time that they retested the feverish man and found that his temperature was still one, two, one that our reporter Rori walked in on the chaos. For Alisha Thomas, it was all too much longer.


Oh, everybody's in there. Oh, no, I plan the day. What I'm not going to do is jeopardize my health. And I'm one of the vulnerable women. I'm a type one diabetic. I have looked for a whole bunch of other stuff going on. I'm not risking my life over no misdemeanor cases. All in all, Thomas said the first day back at court had been such a disaster that they'd actually decided to close it back up.


We're not going to have court again until we can get things in order. The day before had been chaotic for a number of reasons, but Thomas said dealing with genomic Shane and his stakes wasn't one of them, that had been pretty straightforward.


We called his grave. He stood up. Of course, he had to stand in the back to make sure that everybody was OK. But he stood up and just said, we're here today on your own arraignment on two charges.


She read on those charges and he pleaded guilty to both. Alicia Thomas had only been the city prosecutor for four months and the court had been closed for half of them, the first time she'd ever seen Gina's case file was when she got to court that afternoon.


I became involved with Mr. Naksha only yesterday, a short time I met the guy that I know of and had any dealings with him, feminism at all.


But even though she didn't have a long history with Gina McShane, she had an instinct about him in her time working as a criminal defense attorney, which she did. In addition to being the city prosecutor, she'd encountered habitual shoplifters before and she thought the stakes could be a sign of something more.


Me personally to my practice. I know that people have gone into stores and stole food and nice for them, but to save. So you still take this 15 hours. And you go out on the street and sell it for five people, but you got some cash nearby. Because one thing I know for sure about this, it's still in one state tells me you hungry fill in for the next request.


So she put the question to Gina.


So I asked and I said, this is saying is, is this is this stuff attached to you having, you know, a drug problem?


And he said yes. He say, yes, ma'am. That's what he said. I said, OK, would you like Shelp? And he said, yes, man. It wasn't like it was a 15, 30 minute conversation we were talking about maybe like a good minute. A good minute was all it took for Alisha Thomas to cut through to the meat of Gina's problem. She saw him as a person with an addiction, not as a menace to society.


And she recommended that he be sent to drug rehab instead of continuing to languish in jail for another chance.


And and I was willing to give it to the judge was willing to give it to.


I don't if is this Mr. Jeno? Yes, it is.


I got a call from Gina a couple days after the hearing. He was still in jail for the time being, waiting to get into rehab, and he only had a minute to chat.


Yeah, I try to call you in days. The phone rang and it was wrong.


Well, I just wanted to catch up with you to see sort of what happened in court. I asked him if he'd gotten a chance at all to reckon with Judge Murray, to ask her why she'd kept him in jail all those weeks while she was willing to let everyone else out. I asked whether he'd tried to sort out the confusion about the warrant or whether he'd told the judge that he hadn't broken his promise to her. He told me he hadn't mentioned any of it.


So there'd be a lot of problems. Would you say there would have been a lot of pro? Do you know, it seemed had had enough problems for one pandemic? He knew something about the criminal justice system and how it worked. Something he probably known for a long time. It was the judge that judged him, not the other way around. And for a guy like Gino standing in handcuffs in a courthouse, there was only one way to solve problems.


It was to say, yes, ma'am, and get out of there. I just enjoyed just sitting there.


We have no apology. OK, my timetable for this man living in Iraq and just like that, he was gone. Next week, the final episode of Coronavirus in the Delta. In the dark coronavirus in the Delta is reported and produced by me, Madeleine Baron, managing producer, Samarrah framework producer, Natalie Yablonsky, associate producer Raymond Car and reporter Parker Yasko. Additional reporting and photography for this episode by Rory Doyle. The series was edited by Catherine Winter.


The editor in chief of APM Reports is Chris Worthington. This episode was mixed by Corey Schappell original music for the series by Gary Maistre. To see photos that accompany our series, you can go to our website in the Dark podcast Dog Photography for the series by Bendek.