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Question whether somene gave convict a gun in courtroom

February 22, 1997

MENDENHALL, Miss. (AP) _ A convict, sentenced hours earlier to 40 years in prison, is accused of somehow smuggling a gun into a police car and killing two deputies before eluding authorities for nine hours in the woods of Mississippi.

Police want to know if someone gave Eric Leondra Snow a gun during his court appearance Friday, when he pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

Witnesses said Snow, 21, pulled a pistol from between his legs and shot deputies J.P. Rutland and Tommy Bourne in the head and the neck as the patrol car traveled on a rural, two-lane highway in southern Mississippi.

Another prisoner in the car, a woman convicted of fraud, was found screaming in the back seat as the two deputies slumped in the front. The car had no cage separating the prisoners from the front seat.

Snow, who escaped from a Mississippi jail three years ago by cutting window bars with a smuggled saw blade, fled into the woods. He was captured late Friday near a Mendenhall grocery after police spotted him with night-vision equipment.

Earlier Friday, Snow pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the 1994 shooting death of Jerome Keyes, 19, and to aggravated assault for shooting another man that year.

Authorities said they were looking into the possibility that someone slipped a gun to Snow in the courtroom, but had no other details.

After Snow escaped from a county jail in 1994, he remained at large for several months before being captured in Missouri.

Corrections spokesman Ken Jones said the deputies were taking Snow and the other convict, Patricia Gholar, to the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility outside Jackson.

Ms. Gholar told authorities that they had been driving for about 20 minutes when Snow started shooting.

Becky Monk said she saw the patrol car run off the road and then heard four or five shots as she backed her car out of a driveway.

``That’s when I saw a man run from the scene,″ she said. ``He had a long-barreled pistol in his hands.″

Mrs. Monk said Ms. Gholar was screaming in the car when she arrived. A trucker stopped to help and they called 911.

The deputies still had their weapons on them when they were found. Their bodies remained in the car for three hours as investigators took notes and photographs.

There was a bullet hole in the passenger side windshield and another in the roof; blood had soaked the front seats and head rests.

Snow had escaped into the thick woods surrounding Mendenhall, a tiny rural farming community of 2,700 people about 30 miles southeast of Jackson.

Within a few hours, 200 lawmen fanned out across the rolling, wooded hills with a few scattered homes. Deputies were posted in yards bordering the woods, and baying bloodhounds could be heard searching for Snow’s scent.

In town, heavily armed officers set up roadblocks and handed out fliers with Snow’s picture while helicopters with heat sensors swept the area.

He was caught behind the Jitney Jungle food store, about 2 1/2 miles from where the deputies were found.

``They observed him using night vision _ infrared light,″ police chief Michael Mullins said. ```They kept noticing something move every so often in the woods, moving and moving ... As soon as they got near they saw him running.″

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