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Former Ole Miss student Joseph Lyons pleads guilty to murder

The second former University of Mississippi student charged in the 2013 shooting death of grad student Zacharias Hercules McClendon has pleaded guilty to the crime.

Circuit Court Judge John Gregory sentenced Joseph Lyons, 23, to life in prison without the possibility of parole Thursday after he pleaded guilty to murder.

State prosecutors said they would seek the death penalty if Lyons took his case to trial and was found guilty.

The state offered to waive the death penalty if Lyons entered a guilty plea.

The murder took place on Dec. 18, 2013 in McClendon’s apartment at 20B County Road 140 just off of College Hill Road in Oxford. According to the state, Lyons, along with Steven Wilbanks and Derrick Boone entered their neighbor McClendon’s apartment and Wilbanks shot him in the back of the head with a 16-gauge shotgun. The state also claims the three men then stole McClendon’s 2004 Nissan along with clothing, electronics and textbooks, selling the latter.

At 2 a.m., Dec. 19, McClendon’s mother Paula called the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department and asked them to do a welfare check. The police found McClendon dead from a gunshot wound, suspecting foul play and arrived at Paula McClendon’s door several hours later to inform her of the news.

At the time of the incident, both Wilbanks and Boone were enrolled in school at Ole Miss; Lyons was a former student.

The three men were arrested a few hours after police discovered McClendon’s abandoned vehicle at the Chevron on Highway 6 West.

In April 2016, Boone went to trial; however, he changed his plea to guilty after two days into the trial after learning Wilbanks was going to take the stand to testify on behalf of the state. He was also sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Wilbanks is still awaiting trial.

McClendon, 25, was working toward his second master’s degree at Ole Miss and had been accepted into medical school in Jackson before he was murdered.