Monday, January 2, 2017
Controversial artist found dead in office complex
Foul play suspected in ex-con's death
Andrea Stover, whose 2015 theatre production "Snopes" resulted in a prison term on sex crime charges, was found dead this morning in an atrium at Oxford Centre on North Lamar.
Initial indications suggest Stover fell 25 feet from the skywalk connecting the buildings of the office complex, according to Yoknapatawpha Sheriff's Department Public Information Officer Elizabeth Jones.
Sheriff's deputies arrived on the scene shortly before 8:30 a.m. in response to a 911 call from an office worker who discovered the body on the way into work.
Jones said the death is being investigated but declined to disclose any details about the circumstances surrounding Stover's death, citing the ongoing investigation.
Jones would not say whether Stover's death is thought to be an accident, a homicide or a suicide. However, a source close to the investigation told Crime Beat that detectives do believe foul play was involved.
Victim courted controversy
Stover, a Taylor performance artist, was released on December 5, 2016, after completing an 18-month sentence at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl, MS.
She was convicted in June 2015 of disseminating sexually oriented material to minors after parents of three teenagers who volunteered as stage technicians for "Snopes" saw a video of the production and filed charges.
The production was one of several controversial works masterminded by Stover, who colleagues say tackled difficult issues through her choice of sexually explicit works.
"It wasn't about the controversy," said Dale King, assistant director of the Oxtales Theatre. "Andrea was taking on huge issues — rape, interracial romance in the Jim Crow era, gay rights, sexual taboos. Sometimes they aren't pretty to look at, but she brought them out into the light."
King, who served as acting director during Stover's prison term, said she was working on a new piece when she died. The group has put production on hold temporarily, he added.
"It's a huge blow to us and to the artistic community as a whole," King said.
But Stover's critics say her productions were the sign of a deranged mind at work.
Critics voiced strong opposition
"Anyone who would expose teenagers to sex acts like she did was clearly a dangerous psychotic," said Ben Morgan, president of Concerned Oxford Parents (COP), a community watchdog group that works to protect local children and monitors local sex offense cases.
COP, which was headed in 2015 by current Oxford Mayor Claire Windham, advocated the maximum sentence of a 3-year prison term and $15,000 fine for Stover. Since her release, COP has been distributing flyers about Stover to neighbors and local parents in what Morgan describes as an effort to keep the community safe.
"People need to know when sex offenders move into their hometown," said Morgan. "The information is public. We just help get the word out."Morgan denied that his group's work might have incited someone to an act of vigilante justice against Stover.
"We don't advocate violence," he said. "We do advocate putting pressure on local authorities to protect our citizens. To my mind, we had the right to let her know she wasn't wanted here."
Stover is survived by her parents, Abbeville residents Jerry and Irene Stover. They declined to speak about their daughter's death. Funeral services will be held in private, with a memorial service planned for later this month.