State Supreme Court reverses Court of Appeals ruling in Courtney Rainey witness intimidation case

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) – A Canton woman convicted of witness intimidation will remain behind bars and must serve her full sentence, according to the Mississippi State Supreme Court.

The High Court on Thursday overturned the decision of the Mississippi Court of Appeals, upholding the Madison County Circuit Court’s decision to find Courtney Rainey guilty of witness intimidation.

Meanwhile, judges have ruled that Rainey’s 15-year sentence, while long, does not violate the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

“The Circuit Judge made clear the seriousness of the crime and repeatedly expressed concern about crimes that obstruct justice,” the court wrote.

Rainey, a former Canton City employee, was convicted of witness intimidation in 2019. She was sentenced to 15 years in prison by a Madison County Circuit Court judge.

Rainey, who was previously Canton’s director of human and cultural needs, appealed her conviction, which was overturned. Attorney General Lynn Fitch appealed the decision to the state’s highest court.

At the heart of the case was Rainey’s interaction with Emma Ousley. According to court records, Rainey helped Ousley register to vote and then drove her to the polls in the 2017 mayoral election. She then gave Ousley $10 for lunch.

In 2018, the Madison County District Attorney’s Office launched an investigation into potential voter fraud in Canton. Lawyers for the district attorney’s office questioned Ousley and asked her about Rainey, according to court documents.

Ousley testified at trial that Rainey “did not intimidate her but that Rainey asked her what she had told the investigators”. Ousley recalled that she told Rainey she was “going to tell the truth.” However, Ousley later contradicted this statement and testified that Rainey told Ousley “to tell the truth”.

She also told the court that Rainey visited her apartment and work after Ousley met with investigators.

The high court said Ousley clearly made contradictory statements in court and reinstated the lower court’s ruling.

The court also disagreed that the sentence given to the former Canton city employee was too long. Rainey’s attorney had said the 15-year sentence “far exceeded the sentences and resolutions of the other defendants in separate but related cases”.

However, the Supreme Court ruled that the other defendants were charged with voter fraud, not witness intimidation, which falls under a different law. “While Rainey rightly argues that his sentence was harsher, the maximum legal penalty for voting crimes and witness intimidation are not similar.”

The judges also point out that several of the other people Rainey named also pleaded guilty, rather than having their cases taken to court.

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