Melissa Bruns, Murrell Stewart, Hiram Eastland III

Murrell Stewart, center, celebrates his release from the Marshall County Correctional Facility Monday with his mother, Melissa Bruns, left, and his attorney and friend, Hiram Eastland III, right.

After pleading guilty to capital murder and serving 24 years and one month behind bars, Paul Murrell Stewart saw the light of day this week.

“My first thought was that it was a complete blessing,” said Oxford lawyer Hiram Eastland III of his friend and client, Stewart, who was released from the Marshall County Correctional Facility in Holly Springs on Monday.

When he was a 17-year-old junior at Pillow Academy, Stewart pleaded guilty to capital murder and received two life sentences without the possibility of parole for his role in the 1995 slayings of two men, Eddie Brooks and Everett Curry.

Stewart was the driver for a robbery and killing spree with then-22-year-old Edwin Hart Turner.

Turner fatally shot Brooks, a cashier, at a convenience store along U.S. 82 in Leflore County. He then did the same to Curry outside another convenience store while Stewart robbed the store.

Stewart’s original conviction was the result of a plea deal with prosecutors in which he agreed to testify against Turner.

In light of a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prohibited juveniles from being sentenced to life without parole except in extraordinary circumstances, Stewart’s original sentence was vacated and replaced with two life sentences with the possibility of parole in September 2017.

Turner was executed at Parchman in 2012 at the age of 38.

Stewart will live with his mother, Melissa Bruns, as he transitions back to society and eventually seeks employment, Eastland said.

“This would’ve never had happened if Stewart was just another statistic,” Eastland said, citing Stewart’s good prison record and expression of remorse as factors in his release.

In addition, Stewart earned a GED and then an associate’s degree and bachelor’s degree in Christian ministry and mentored other prisoners, Eastland said.

“This is a happy moment for my client,” Eastland said of Stewart. “He’s not seeking any fanfare.”

Just as Stewart is trying to rebuild his life, so are the relatives of the victims.

Everett Curry Jr., named after his father, was 9 when he lost his dad. Decades later, Curry said his father’s slaying is “still rather fresh for me even though it happened so long ago.”

“It’s kind of devastating,” Curry said when he learned Stewart was released. “I try my best to keep my family and myself strong.”

Eastland emphasized that Stewart is “still under the custody of the Department of Corrections for parole for the rest of his life.”

That means Stewart has to check in regularly with a parole officer and adhere to a set of conditions. If he doesn’t follow the rules, he can go back to prison, Eastland said.

• Contact Gerard Edic at 581-7239 or gedic@gwcommonwealth.com.

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