‘Gut-wrenched’: Family of 1991 murder victim speaks out after killer appeals for parole

Published: Sep. 29, 2022 at 7:21 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A victim’s family is devastated after the man convicted in a 31-year-old murder case appealed for parole.

In 1991, Freddie Bell was charged with two murders that took place on the same day, one in North Mississippi and another in Memphis.

He could be granted parole in a month.

How he got to this point has caused outrage among the community, most notably the family of one of his victims.

On May 6, 1991, Freddie Bell shot and killed 21-year-old Bert Bell, of whom he had no relation, in Grenada, Mississippi, before driving to Memphis and killing 20-year-old Tommy Patton.

Action News 5 met with Gene Bell, Bert’s younger brother, this week.

He flipped through letters from the Mississippi Parole Board that he’s received since 2015 — the notices of Freddie Bell’s parole hearing results.

Before all of this, Freddie Bell was actually sentenced to death in 1993, but that changed as he sat on death row.

“In 2010, we actually had a scheduled execution in the State of Mississippi, where then-Governor Hayley Barbour issued a stay of the execution,” Gene Bell said.

That was because Freddie Bell was deemed mentally incapacitated, and so was then resentenced to life without parole.

In just a few years, he was said to be fully recovered and was resentenced again to life with the possibility of parole, much to the disappointment of Bert Bell’s family.

“You can’t come in and out of mental incapacitation,” Gene Bell said, throwing his hands up. “If we all of a sudden want to be sane and we’re good to be able to rejoin society as you and I, law-abiding citizens, understand society, then his sentence should be reinstated, which was death by his peers.”

That same day in ‘91 Bert Bell was killed, Freddie Bell drove up to Memphis, shooting and killing Patton at the intersection of Horn Lake and Brooks.

Action News 5 was unable to reach a member of Patton’s family.

Court documents from Shelby County show Freddie Bell was indicted for first-degree murder in April 1992, but he pled guilty to second-degree murder.

He was sentenced to 25 years for that charge.

In 2015, he became eligible for parole in Mississippi, and he’s been appealing ever since.

In late August, Gene Bell received this letter:

“The Parole Board granted parole to Bell,” he read aloud.

“You’re gut-wrenched,” he said after reading. “Your heart is literally ripped out of your chest.”

Freddie Bell was granted parole in late August, but that was rescinded due to an unusual technicality.

It’s required to publish this news twice in the local paper of the offender’s hometown, which for Freddie Bell is Grenada.

Because there were no publications, parole was taken away.

“We’re not talking about a self-defense killing. We’re talking about... shot someone,” said Mississippi State Senator Michael McLendon.

Bert Bell’s story has been shared across the state and has since caught the attention of local lawmakers like McLendon from Hernando, as well as law enforcement at the local, county, and state level.

“There’s four new members, I believe, on that parole board, and they haven’t been confirmed yet by the legislature,” McLendon told Action News 5. “I’ve got a real issue with this. I’m going to have to talk with each one of them.”

Gene Bell has been touched by the support for his family.

He’s been to every parole board hearing and says he won’t stop until his family is able to close this 30-year chapter of their lives.

“...not until the last breath is taken out of me,” he said.

Freddie Bell will have another chance to appeal for parole on Oct. 26, and Bert Bell’s family intends to be there and do what they can to keep him from being released.

The Mississippi Parole Board did not return WMC’s request for comment.

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