HERNANDO, MS (abc24.com) - Now that the victim of a Hernando hit and run death has been identified as someone known to the suspect in custody, police are investigating the case as a homicide.
Mayor Chip Johnson says it Hernando's first murder in 15 years. "It's become even worse, if you can imagine something worse than a hit and run," he said.
23-year-old Sarah Jones was found dead on the side of Oak Grove road in the early morning hours of December 22, 2011 lying next to her bicycle.
According to Hernando Police Chief Mike Riley, "She's from Memphis, her parents have been notified; that's basically all we know about her at this point."
Police initially thought her death was a hit and run. But Chief Riley charged 55-year-old James Allen Whitten, Jr. with Jones's murder. "Probable cause and evidence to point to that," he said. "Murder would go to show intent and he is charged with murder so I will leave it at that."
Whitten lives on Oak Grove Road, the same street where she was killed. In fact, her body was discovered less than half a mile away.
Riley connected the two after finding a picture of them together on a cell phone found near Jones' body.
"These people did know each other in some form or fashion," stated Mayor Johnson, adding the incident was "not a random act of violence."
Cops are still trying to figure out why the young woman was killed. While there's a 30 plus year age difference between Jones and Whitten, neighbors said they were dating.
Whitten is a convicted felon; he served almost 20 years in federal prison on serious drug charges. Now he sits in DeSoto County's jail, facing even more.
James Allen Whitten, Jr. is being held without bond. He is expected to appear in court after the Christmas holiday.