Belle Glade Faces Its Demons After a Senseless Murder | Feature | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida


Belle Glade Faces Its Demons After a Senseless Murder

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Errica Hearns told police that she'd discovered a handgun in her son's room two days after the murder. Graham pleaded with his mom for the gun, saying Jones wanted it back. Jones was outside her house during this conversation. Hearns told police she overheard Jones say, "I'm going to fuck her up and the family." Fearing she would be killed, Hearns gave her son the gun.

The probable-cause affidavit doesn't mention fingerprints, phone records, or other evidence to back up Hearns' account of events. It does say that Jones was in the Alabama Georgia Grocery buying a book of matches eight minutes before the robbery began.

The morning of McMillan's murder, Hardwick says her son went to the grocery store to buy a lighter and a pacifier for his daughter. Then he came back home. "Mama, I didn't do nothing," Hardwick remembers him saying later, when police began calling.

"That's why I don't know what's going on," she adds.

Agitated, she disappears into a backroom for several minutes to dig out some papers and returns with printouts showing Jones' old report cards. "He gets good grades," she says. In a town where everyone knows one another, she hates to think people would blame her son for what happened to McMillan. "I don't put my head down. I hold my head up, and I read the Bible," she says, sitting at the dining-room table. "I don't care what people say about me."

But as the conversation wears on, Hardwick drops her head in her hands. Robinson stands behind her in the small room, reminiscing about growing up in a neighborhood where there were free art and recreation programs for the kids, trips to the movies and the park on weekends. That program ended a decade ago. Now teenagers in Belle Glade end up hanging out in nightclubs or on the street. "You ain't got nothing for these young kids," Robinson says.

Hardwick's voice grows muffled, close to tears. She's ready to get out of Belle Glade, the town that seems to brew trouble for her son. Jones and Graham have both pleaded not guilty and are in jail awaiting trial. "When God bring my baby home safe, I'm gonna leave," Hardwick says.

A month after McMillan's death, the Alabama Georgia Grocery Store is open for business again. The makeshift memorial of flowers and scrawled messages is gone, and for the first time in its history, the store is for sale. McMillan's widow is ready for someone else to take over, according to McMillan's sister and family spokesperson, Connie Deaton.

Inside the shop, a short, wiry man with curly white hair and glasses stands behind the counter. "How you doin'? You doin' all right?" a customer asks him.

Wilson McMillan, Jimmy's dad, speaks in a soft, scratchy voice. He's bursting with pride about the fishing competition his 16-year-old grandson will compete in that week. Jimmy was supposed to enter the contest too. Three years ago, Jimmy won a $100,000 bass-fishing prize on Lake Okeechobee after being named Angler of the Year in the FLW Series Eastern Division, Wilson brags.

"Jimmy always fished," he says. "That's all he ever wanted to do."

Wilson's voice is shaking. He says he wanted Jimmy to go away to college, but his son insisted on staying in Belle Glade, clerking beside him. "He was done with school," Wilson remembers.

Ten years ago, Jimmy bought the store from his dad. Running the shop gave him the freedom and steady income to fish whenever he could, Deaton says.

Wilson McMillan has a different hobby. He shoots targets at Markham Park in Fort Lauderdale. His love of guns is well-known in Belle Glade, and he's not shy about using the weapons. If he had been working that morning of the robbery, Wilson McMillan says, "I'd 'a had a field day."

Outside, behind the store, Calvin Leggett is in his usual spot, under the tree with his friends. The bucket of beer is propped on the card table. Someone brought a bag of peanuts.

Leggett liked Jimmy McMillan. He was grateful for the store owner's hospitality and the cases of beer he distributed every Christmas. But he's not sure one man's murder will bring the change so badly needed in Belle Glade.

There are still no jobs, still too many young men wandering aimlessly along the streets. Leggett complains that the sheriff's deputies huddle their cars in one spot instead of patrolling the neighborhood more. He says violence in the area calmed down right after the murder, but he has little reason to believe it's gone for good.

"After [McMillan] got killed, it stopped for a minute," Leggett says. "I imagine it's gonna start back up."

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Lisa Rab
Contact: Lisa Rab

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