Three Mississippi men who ran down and killed a Black man last June pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes March 22, one day after one of the defendants pleaded guilty to the slaying in state court.

Dylan Butler, 20, Deryl Dedmon, 19, and John Aaron Rice, 19, all of Brandon, Miss., admitted to conspiring to commit and committing a hate crime, as well as to a months-long campaign of terror against Blacks that began in April 2011 and culminated June 26 in the death of James Craig Anderson, a 47-year-old auto plant worker.

“This is really a case about a group of racist thugs who made a sport of targeting vulnerable African Americans in Jackson and attacking them without provocation simply because of the color of their skin,” Thomas E. Perez, the assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division, said in a statement.

“On a number of occasions they drove around Jackson looking for African-Americans to assault,” Perez continued. “Jackson is a venerable community, however, for these defendants Jackson was ‘Jafrica’ African Americans were subhuman.”

In admitting his crime, Dedmon said he and friends were partying in the town of Puckett, Miss. when they decided to find a Black person to harass. Around dawn, they found Anderson in the parking lot of a Jackson hotel. Butler, Rice and others stalled Anderson until Dedmon arrived, when they proceeded to punch and beat the victim.

Then came the scene that rocked the nation. Caught on a hotel tape which received widespread attention, Rice, Butler and others in a white Jeep Cherokee are seen leaving the parking lot at around 5:05 a.m. Seconds later, Dedmon’s green Ford F-250 backs up and then plunges forward, knocking down and driving over Anderson.

Several people cried during the recounting. Later, Dedmon asked the victim’s family for forgiveness.

“As I stand before you today, I am a changed man. I am a godly man. God has showed me to see no colors. God showed me that we are all made in the image of God so we are all based on the same thing,” he said. “I do not ask y’all to forget, but I do ask y’all to forgive.”

The victim’s family has not made any public comments about the case, but asked prosecutors not to seek the death penalty for Dedmon because they oppose capital punishment, according to Reuters. They have nevertheless filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Dedmon in civil court.

Dedmon received two life sentences on the state charges. He and his co-conspirators face up to five years in prison on the federal conspiracy charge, and could receive life sentences on the hate crime federal charge.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves set sentencing for June 8. Officials said the investigation is ongoing and more arrests may be imminent.


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO