Judge Neilson, 63, dies at hunting camp

Published 6:10 am Wednesday, January 17, 2024

By Alyssa Schnugg
Senior reporter

Oxford Municipal Judge Philip Halbert “Hal” Neilson died Jan. 7, 2024, at the age of 63 while at his hunting camp in Alligator, west of Clarksdale.

The Oxford Board of Aldermen have appointed retired Circuit Court Judge Andy Howorth to serve as municipal judge until the board approves a permanent replacement. Howorth is also serving as the interim Justice Court judge after the passing of Judge Johnny Wayne McLarty last month. Howorth served as Circuit Court judge for the Third Circuit Court District for almost two decades before retiring in 2020.

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Services for Neilson were held last week, and he was buried in Oxford Memorial Cemetery.

Before being sworn in as municipal judge for the city of Oxford in March 2018, Neilson enjoyed a long career in criminal and general law.

Mayor Robyn Tannehill said the Oxford community had lost a dedicated community servant and fair and compassionate judge.

“Personally, I have lost a dear friend and neighbor,” Tannehill said. “Hal made everyone who crossed his path feel valued and heard. He always had something positive to share. Hal will be deeply missed by his family, as well as, by his family, as well as, by his friends and coworkers.”

He attended Delta State and the University of Mississippi before earning his law degree from the University of Mississippi Law School.

After graduation, he moved to Washington D.C., where he became a legal advisor and civil litigation attorney for the Federal Bureau of Investigation for more than 23 years. He later moved to Jackson and then to Oxford where he served as the special agent in charge for north Mississippi.

After retiring from the FBI in 2012, he started his own law practice, Neilson Law Office, in Oxford. In June 2023, he was elected president of the Mississippi Municipal Court Judges Association.

He was a member of the Mississippi Bar Association, the Lafayette County Mississippi Bar, the Federal Bureau of Investigation Agents Association, the Society of Former Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Inc., and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.

An avid outdoorsman, he enjoyed hunting and was an Ole Miss Rebels football and baseball fan.

He is survived by his wife, Michelle Gebhart Neilson of Oxford; his daughters, Heather Neilson Nutt, Rosemary Elizabeth Neilson and Marjorie Ann Neilson; a son, Philip Halbert Neilson, Jr.; two brothers, two sisters, a grandson and others.