Appeals court affirms 2001 convictions in insurance murder'
By By Suzanne Monk / managing editor
Dec. 4, 2002
The Mississippi Court of Appeals on Tuesday affirmed the murder convictions of Mary Ann Adams and her brother, John W. Barrett accused of killing Mary Ann Woolf for her insurance money.
Woolf died in June 1998.
Her body was found lying face-down in Suqualena Creek, about 4 miles north of Meridian on Hookston Road. Her car was perched on an embankment about 15 feet away. An autopsy revealed Woolf died of freshwater drowning.
Lauderdale County deputies immediately suspected that the scene, staged to look like an accident, was in fact murder.
Investigators discovered that Woolf and Adams were friends, nurses who worked together at University Medical Center in Jackson.
Prosecutors said Adams convinced Woolf to take out a $200,000 life insurance policy naming Adams as the beneficiary and carrying a double indemnity rider in the event of accidental death.
Adams and Barrett were convicted in Lauderdale County Circuit Court in February 2001. The five-day trial resulted in life sentences for both.
Attorneys for the defendants based their appeal on several factors. They said there was no direct evidence of guilt and that the two defendants should have been tried separately. They complained that the cross-examination of prosecution witnesses had been unfairly limited.
In what was probably their most critical appeals issue, defense attorneys said the admission of evidence about a similar incident tainted the jury's perception of Adams.
Several years earlier, Adams had befriended another woman, Sherron Walters, a single mother with two children who was down on her luck. Adams invited Walters to move in with her.
The two women went on a car trip together. stopping by a liquor store and drinking as they made their way down the highway. Walters testified that, at some point, Adams drove up to a gate and honked the horn.
That was the last thing Walters remembered before waking up in the hospital. She learned she had been left alone in the car, which was parked on a railroad crossing with the lights and ignition turned off. The car was struck by an oncoming train.
As with Woolf, Adams was the beneficiary of a life insurance policy this time a $250,000 policy with an additional $100,000 indemnity in case of accidental death.
The Mississippi Court of Appeals affirmed Circuit Judge Larry Roberts on all trial issues.
A third person, Jefferson Long, pleaded guilty in the case. Long admitted providing a false alibi for John Barrett, telling investigators he was on a fishing trip with Barrett when Woolf died.
Initially indicted for capital murder, Long pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and received a six-month suspended sentence.