By Jane Clark Summers

Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

CORINTH - An eyewitness to the fatal shooting of Rabon Lee "Junior" Smith and the first police officer on the scene were the first witnesses called to testify in the murder trial of Buford Mask.

Smith, 27, was shot once between the eyes. Authorities found him lying on his back in the floor of the former Dundees Restaurant and Lounge on U.S. Highway 72. According to a police photograph admitted into evidence, a pocket knife with the blade extended was lying in the palm of the victim's hand.

Wardell Mattox, 27, the state's key witness in the Feb. 17, 1993, slaying, said he saw Mask shoot Smith without provocation. Mattox testified that he saw "Buford pressing the knife in Junior's hand." But the truthfulness of Mattox's account of events is being questioned by the defense.

Mask, 49, claims he shot Smith in self-defense.

Assistant District Attorney Jim Pounds contends that Mask put the knife in Smith's hand to make it look like self-defense. "We will show through witnesses that saw what happened that it was clearly murder," Pounds said in opening statements.

Defense attorney Joey Langston showed the jury a letter written from jail by Mattox, who was arrested on unrelated charges a few weeks after the shooting. Mattox wrote to Mask explaining that he had to give a statement to a Corinth police investigator in order to get out of jail. The statement directly conflicted with a prior statement by Mattox to Mask's former attorney in which Mattox corroborated Mask's defense.

Langston said his client had a weapon in his possession that night because he was carrying a large amount of cash from his business. Defense witnesses will testify to Smith's violent nature and about statements he made earlier in the day about cutting up a certain person if he saw him that day.

The autopsy report indicated Smith's body contained quantities of the tranquilizer Valium, marijuana and alcohol. "Junior Smith set in motion the acts which resulted in the loss of his own life," Langston said.

Smith approached Mask and asked him to flip a coin for $100, testimony indicated. Smith knelt at the table where Mask was sitting with his son, Jerry Mask, and a friend of the son.

Mattox's story and the defense line veer at this point. Mattox said Mask put a cigarette in his mouth and acted as if reaching for a lighter inside his jacket but instead pulled out a gun and shot Smith.

Testimony continues today at 9 a.m. in Alcorn County Circuit Court.

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