Suspect in Waffle House shooting asks if death penalty possible

Johnny Max Mount returns to his seat after his initial appearance in front of Judge Albert Fountain in Harrison County court on a charge of first-degree murder in the Friday shooting of Waffle House server Julie Brightwell.
Johnny Max Mount returns to his seat after his initial appearance in front of Judge Albert Fountain in Harrison County court on a charge of first-degree murder in the Friday shooting of Waffle House server Julie Brightwell. SUN HERALD

The man accused of shooting a Waffle House server over a smoking ban had only one question when standing before a judge for his initial appearance on Monday.

"Is the death penalty going to be involved in this charge?" suspect Johnny Max Mount asked Justice Court Judge Albert Fountain.

In response, the judge read the law regarding capital offenses that could result in a possible death penalty. But as for now, Mount only has been charged with one count of first degree murder, and not a capital offense.

He has requested a preliminary hearing, which Fountain said would be set within a couple of weeks. The court will appoint a public defender to represent Mount, who indicated he wished to speak to an attorney.

Harrison County jail Warden Evan Hubbard said Mount is being held in the medical block at the jail for medical reasons.

Mount, a former Biloxi firefighter arrested on a charge of first-degree murder in the Friday slaying of long-time Waffle House server, Julie Brightwell, 52. The hearing is set at the Harrison County jail, Sheriff Melvin Brisolara confirmed this morning.

Mount is being held on a $2 million bond set by Fountain.

Biloxi police arrested Mount, 45, as he was walking out of the Waffle House restaurant around 1 a.m. Friday.

According to authorities, Brightwell was trying to get Mount to stop smoking in the restaurant when he pulled out a 9 mm handgun and shot her. She was taken to Merit Health Biloxi, where she was pronounced dead.

Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove said she died of a single gunshot wound the head.

Brightwell had been working for Waffle House for eight years. She had worked at the Waffle House where the shooting occurred since June 2014, when it reopened after being destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.

According to Pat Warner, vice president of Waffle House's corporate office in Atlanta, a candlelight vigil in memory of Brightwell is scheduled at 5:15 p.m. Friday on the beach across the street from the restaurant where Brightwell worked in the 2400 block of U.S. 90. He said Monday her coworkers, friends and Waffle House management are helping set up the vigil.

"One of her coworkers is planning on singing," he said. "She had been encouraged by Julie to pursue her singing, so she wanted to do that."

Warner said he and other senior corporate officials are hoping to make it to the memorial.

In addition, he said, Waffle House plans to cover the funeral costs for Brightwell and help her family "any way we can."

Since the shooting, Warner and Waffle House employees from other restaurants have filled in for those workers who needed time away to grieve and come to terms about what happened.

"Julie touched a lot of people," he said. "This tragedy doesn't just affect this one restaurant. It affects our entire market. All of our associates knew her or knew of her."

Brightwell, he said, had been handpicked to help reopen the Waffle House where the shooting occurred.

"She was picked because she was such a good associate," he said. "She had that kind of personality that made you feel better when you came in and dined with us. She seemed to really bond with her customers and she made sure they had an enjoyable visit while they were there."

A GoFundMe account has been set up to help Brightwell's family with any expenses.

The Waffle House where the shooting occurred is smoke free. Some of the chain's restaurants allow smoking.

Waffle House also prohibits firearms in its restaurants unless the customer works in a law enforcement field or the military, Warner said.

Customers said Brightwell spent some of her last minutes alive asking them if they'd enjoyed their Thanksgiving holiday or if they had found some good deals during their post-Thanksgiving shopping.

Mount has no felony record, but he does have misdemeanor violations.

Since Brightwell's killing, people have taken to Twitter and Facebook to talk about the killing and wondering what could have set off the accused.

A friend of Mount's family said he "was not a monster," and that something must've "snapped" in him.

On Christmas Eve 2002, a car struck Mount while he was standing in the middles of U.S. 49 in Gulfport. A family friend said he lost a limb and suffered a traumatic brain injury at that time.

Mount stopped working for the Biloxi Fire Department after the 2002 accident.

Biloxi police are continuing their investigation.