MS Coast domestic violence victim killed after judge’s order. System failed her, family says

Kimberly “Kim” Kennedy knew her life was on the line long before her abuser gunned her down this year in front of their two children in the parking lot of a store in Stone County’s Perkinston community.

The 44-year-old mother of four had gotten a protection order to try to keep Perry Lloyd Stephens Jr., 52, away from her, their two children, ages 4 and 6, and her two other children, ages 17 and 16, records show.

According to the records, a municipal judge in Pass Christian granted the protection order in October 2023 and extended it a couple of times, but Stephens was never served.

Pass Police Chief Darren Freeman said he had no record of the order and that an officer of the court would have served Stephens. In addition, Freeman said police there had not responded to any domestic violence complaint in the city involving the two.

Kennedy’s attorney, Harry Yoste, who provides free legal services to victims of domestic violence at the Northcutt Legal Clinic in Gulfport, said Stephens usually tried to avoid being served with any court papers. Her family said the same.

Kimberly “Kim” Kennedy Trinity Funeral Services
Kimberly “Kim” Kennedy Trinity Funeral Services

Court battles

By Feb. 26, Kennedy thought she would finally get away from Stephens for good as she neared the end of their child custody case.

“He threatened to kill her if she got custody of the children,” Yoste said. “I think he knew things weren’t going his way. He hadn’t paid child support.”

In addition, her attorney said Stephens said in so many words that if he couldn’t have their two sons, then nobody could.

On the afternoon of March 10, Stephens shot and killed her in front of their two children in a barrage of gunfire outside the Dollar General store in Perkinston. Shortly after, Stephens died from what is believed as a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Sean Tindell, the Mississippi Department of Public Safety commissioner, said Stephens showed up at the store armed with two guns.

The Sun Herald conducted exclusive interviews and obtained and reviewed police reports, hospital records and court action to provide an in-depth report on how Kennedy endured years of domestic violence at the hands of Stephens before her murder.

Perry L. Stephens Jr. George County Sheriff's Department
Perry L. Stephens Jr. George County Sheriff's Department

Stephens was arrested only once: in 2019 on a misdemeanor charge of simple assault by domestic violence. The arrest occurred in George County. He later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of simple assault and paid a $475 fine for the crime.

By June 2023, Kennedy was done with Stephens’ attacks and sought help at a shelter through the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence.

Kennedy is among thousands of domestic violence victims to file for protection orders, also known as restraining orders, in Mississippi annually to try to keep their alleged abusers away, though those orders often do little to stop them.

Child swap moved from police department

Stephens filed a child custody case against Stephens in George County Chancery Court later that year.

In the last order on Feb. 26, Chancery Judge Ashlee Cole ordered Stephens to start paying monthly child support on March 1. The court order shows that the judge also ordered Stephens to enroll in and attend a domestic violence intervention program at the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence.

Stephens hadn’t done either.

In addition, the judge ordered the estranged couple to start meeting at the Dollar General store instead of the D’Iberville Police Department or at the Mississippi Highway Patrol office on Highway 67 to exchange their two sons before and after their weekend visits with their father.

The store was supposed to be halfway between the parents’ homes since Stephens lived in George County’s Benndale community, and Kennedy lived in Pass Christian with their two children.

After Kennedy arrived at the store around 4 p.m. on March 10, she told a customer she was concerned because Stephens didn’t seem in his right mind. The customer called Stone County sheriff’s deputies to respond.

When the deputy got there, Stephens had already started shooting.

Kennedy was outside her vehicle, and a witness said Stephens got out like he was going to get the two boys out of the vehicle for Kennedy when he opened fire.

Stephens fired over 30 rounds, according to authorities, killing Kennedy and shooting and injuring a Stone County sheriff’s deputy who responded to the scene.

A bullet grazed the deputy’s face, but he is back on the job.

Kennedy died of multiple gunshot wounds at the scene, and Stephens died from a gunshot in his vehicle, according to the coroner.

The witness said a customer grabbed the two boys and ran to the back of the store to keep them safe.

“She was a damn good person,” Kennedy’s aunt, Brenda Loll, said. “The police knew he was a violent man because she went to them more than one time to tell them, and they just failed her. He was a violent man, a very violent man.”

And the mental and physical abuse of Kennedy and the children was relentless, court and hospital records show.

“He would beat the hell of her,” Loll said, “He crammed his fingers down her throat, and his fingernails scratched her throat. He threatened to kill her all the time, just like he did. It was premeditated. He was a very, very vicious man. She told everyone he was.”

Kennedy had returned to Stephens at different times before he last beat her in June 2023, records show, and she was back in a hospital again.

“She finally got away from him, and he murdered her in front of her babies,” Loll said. “He didn’t like what the judge (Cole) had told him, and they had him under control in court, so he went to meet her, and he was loaded for bear. They should have never let them meet at a store. Something should be done about that.”

Documented attacks for years

Stephens repeatedly and consistently beat Kennedy during their time together, relatives said, and records show, and often, her children were home when it happened.

In one such attack, on July 27, 2019, Stephens violently beat her with a belt and threatened to kill her and her children, records show. She was four months pregnant with their second son at the time.

Kennedy, the records say, told police Stephens, who was a heavy drinker, went into a rage, beating her so severely with a belt that she had various bruises and other injuries.

When Kennedy got a break from the attack, she told Stephens she was taking her children and leaving him.

In a subsequent petition for a protection order, Kennedy’s petition said when she tried to leave with her children, Stephens told her “he would kill her, virtually holding her hostage and her children hostage.”

If she called the police for help, Stephens told Kennedy, “he would kill her, the kids, the police, then himself.”

As a result, Kennedy said she “remained quiet and awake til morning and left after he went to work,” the records said.

That request for a protection order against Stephens in Pass Christian was filed on Aug. 2, 2019.

Attorney Yoste then filed a petition in Harrison County Chancery Court for Kennedy to get custody of their one child at the time because their second son had not yet been born. The Pass Christian judge granted the protection order, which typically lasts 30 days, on Aug. 23, 2019.

Unfortunately, Yoste said, Kennedy got back to him in October 2019 to tell him to dismiss the custody case and a petition to extend the protection order so she and Stephens could attempt reconciliation.

The attacks on Kennedy, both emotionally and physically, continued.

The attack that made Kennedy leave for good occurred around June 10, 2023, when Kennedy ended up back in a hospital for help.

At the time, Kennedy and Stephens lived in George County, where he worked as a self-employed carpenter.

This time, Stephens had beaten her so severely that the hospital report said she had contusions on her abdominal wall and various bruising and abrasions on the inside lining of her cheeks, the back of her lips and in other areas inside her mouth and throat.

Kennedy died in the barrage of gunfire nine months later.

Her eldest son, Devin Kennedy, wants people to remember his mom for the good person she was.

The last time he spoke to her, he said she was telling him about her work schedule at McDonald’s, where she was a manager. She was on the way to pick up the two boys.

“Everything she did, she did with her four kids in mind,” he said. “Anytime someone needed her, she was always there. She was a light in the dark world that we have today.”

Devin and his siblings have been sticking close together with Kennedy’s relatives since her death. Mostly, Devin said, each of them is still in shock about what happened.

He also can’t forget the countless times aid he could hear Stephens beating his mom behind closed doors.

“Even with the door closed, I could hear my mom begging for him to stop,” he said. “It was hard to listen to because I knew I couldn’t get him to stop.”

If he or the others tried to intervene, he said Stephens threatened to kill them for it.

A stab in the back and a disheartening trend

Kennedy endured other hardships when she left Stephens for good.

After she left, she moved into a domestic violence shelter to live to keep herself and her children safe.

At the shelter, her attorney and friends said, she met and developed a strong friendship with another woman who had been victimized by domestic violence.

Her attorney said that the woman and Kennedy decided to rent a place together for them and their children so they could share bills until they could get back on their feet and move on with their lives.

The two found a place to share in Pass Christian, but then the other woman then formed a personal relationship with Stephens.

The woman went on to share details on Kennedy with Stephens. The woman even accompanied Stephens to court one time in George County.

What happened to Kennedy then, and when she died, is something Yoste said he has sadly seen happen before to other domestiv violence clients.

“You always think, what would I have done differently?” Yoste said. “If I knew, I would have done it. It’s disheartening, but it happens. It’s the nature of what I do.”

For help

To get help for domestic violence on the Mississippi Coast, reach out to:

Gulf Coast Center for Non-violence:

24/7 Crisis Line: 800-800-1396

Harrison County: 228-435-1968

Jackson County (Adrienne’s House): 228-762-8267

Hancock County: 228-252-1999

Northcutt Legal Clinic: 228-864-7144