A White teenager charged with intentionally running over a Black man with his pickup truck in Jackson, Miss. last summer, is fighting to have his trial moved to a predominately non-Black county.
A hearing to determine where Deryl Dedmond, 19, will be tried has been pushed back at least once; it’s now set for Feb. 16.
Meanwhile the gruesome murder of 49-year-old James Craig Anderson, an automobile plant worker, is stamped in the minds of the entire nation. The case received extensive media coverage after a surveillance video capturing the murder was unearthed.
The grainy video shows two cars carrying about seven White teenagers drive into a motel parking lot where Anderson was standing. Several jump out and beat up Anderson. As he stumbles around, the driver of a green pickup truck backs up and then accelerates forward, driving over Anderson, who later dies at a hospital. Police believe Deryl Dedmond was driving that truck.
Witnesses say the teens yelled racial epithets, like “White power” as they beat Dedmond, and laughed and bragged after running him over. Prosecutors have labeled the case a hate crime.
“These teenagers have a history of harassing White teens, who had Black friends or gay teens,” Robert Shuler Smith, the Hinds County district attorney, told reporters.
The teens live in a mostly-white suburban county. They allegedly left an all-night party and drove 16 miles to Jackson looking for a Black person to “mess with.”
“This is the first business that you get to coming off the highway, Smith told CNN, “and so that was the first person that was out here and vulnerable.”
The murder spiked racial tensions in a state with a history already laced with racial violence and discrimination.
There were marches denouncing the crime and memorializing Anderson, a man known for his cooking, gardening and “grand-piano” smile.
Meanwhile, Dedmond’s friends and family argued his innocence on a Facebook page set up by his supporters. The teen’s aunt wrote on that page: “He is not a racist or a murderer…If anything, he is being tried by the media, suffering from reverse racism and placed in jail without bond. I am sick of the race card.”
“This does not happen very often, and I am not saying it reflects the overall feelings in the different communities here,” Smith told The New York Times. Still, parts of the area “are very polarized, he said. “It’s still highly segregated in most ways.”
In September, Anderson’s family filed a wrongful death suit against all the teens allegedly in the car that night. It charges that while a few were directly responsible for killing Anderson, the others were negligent because they didn’t stop them.
Dedmond has pleaded not guilty to capital murder. He has called Anderson’s death an accident. If convicted and prosecutors can prove the murder was a hate crime, his sentence could be doubled. Prosecutors have not decided whether to seek the death penalty.
One other teen, John Rice, 18, has been charged with simple assault. None of the others, including two teenage girls, have been charged.
“This is almost like a culture with these teens,” the Anderson family’s lawyer, Winston Thompson III, told the New York Times. “It’s evidently a little network. To see it manifest in the way it did was shocking.”