Mississippi Youths Plead Guilty to 2011 Hate Crimes

James Craig Anderson

Last summer I wrote about a “shocking hate crime” committed by 18-year-old Deryl Dedmon and some friends in Jackson, Mississippi in the early hours of June 26, 2011. At the time, I likened the crime to the murder of Medgar Evers, who had been shot and killed by a white man in Jackson, Mississippi on June 23, 1963. At the time I wrote the post, Deryl Dedmon and one other boy, John A. Rice, had been arrested, but the charges against Rice had been reduced to simple assault and he had been released.

The teenagers, who were from Brandon, Mississippi, had been partying all night; and at the instigation of Dedmon, they drove to Jackson, Mississippi in search of a black man to harrass.

In a parking lot on the western side of town they found their victim.

James Craig Anderson, a 49-year-old auto plant worker, was standing in a parking lot, near his car. The teens allegedly beat Anderson repeatedly, yelled racial epithets, including “White Power!” according to witnesses.

Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith says a group of the teens then climbed into their large Ford F250 green pickup truck, floored the gas, and drove the truck right over Anderson, killing him instantly.

A video camera captured the attack and subsequent murder, making the arrests possible.

Last October, CNN published an in-depth report on the case based on interviews with Brandon residents who knew the boys.

Parents and students who knew Dedmon tell CNN it was widely known that he expressed a hatred for blacks, white people who had black friends, and anyone he thought was gay. And they say he had a history of harassing teens at his high school.

CNN has learned that Department of Justice investigators have uncovered two other possible incidents where groups of white Rankin County teens, including Dedmon, have sought out and attacked a black person.

Dedmon and his friends bullied another local boy because he had black friends.

Jordan Richardson, 17, says he was bullied, beaten and harassed by Dedmon and his friends two years ago, partly because he had black friends.

“He had a look of no conscience,” Jordan said about Dedmon. “When we would get into our altercations … there was never any show of emotion or anything — anything. Deryl always, I think, just carried around this backpack of hatred.”

After numerous run-ins at school, Jordan’s father called police after a particularly violent confrontation, and the police separated the boys.

“It was very tough on my son,” said Brian Richardson, a pastor in Brandon. “Because he knew – and I had told Jordan for a year and a half, that Deryl Dedmon will kill you.”

Brian Richardson said that Dedmon and the gang of boys he hung out with constantly used the “n” word and were known to be violent. A friend of his son Jordan had also been harrassed by Dedmon.

Nevertheless, police and school officials claimed that had seen “no warning signs” and that Anderson’s murder was “an isolated incident.”

CNN learned that

Shortly after he allegedly drove the truck over Anderson, Dedmon boasted and laughed about the killing, according to testimony given by some of the teens to detectives.

“I ran that nigger over,” Dedmon allegedly said in a phone conversation to the teens in the other car. He repeated the racial language in subsequent conversations, according to the law enforcement officials.

“He was not remorseful, he was laughing, laughing about the killing,” said [District Attorney Robert Shuler] Smith.

Deryl Dedmon

Yesterday, Dedmon and two other young men, Dylan Butler, and John A. Rice pleaded guilty to in the murder of James Anderson.

In a series of court hearings orchestrated by state and federal prosecutors, Deryl Dedmon, 19, and his friends John A. Rice, 18, and Dylan Butler, 20, were charged in the morning in United States District Court in Jackson with one count each of conspiracy and one of violating Mr. Anderson’s civil rights. They pleaded guilty in the afternoon.

They face up to five years for the conspiracy charge and up to life for the hate-crime violations….On Wednesday, Mr. Dedmon admitted in state court that he drove his truck over Mr. Anderson, 47, in a motel parking lot just before dawn last June 26. He was sentenced to two life sentences without a chance for parole.

The murder, whose race-based implications were slow to surface, shot to national prominence when surveillance video surfaced. In it, Mr. Anderson could be seen stumbling and then being struck by a Ford F-250 with Mr. Dedmon at the wheel.

The newly revealed state-federal case against the young men showed that Dedmon and several of his friends had been regularly targeting vulnerable black people in Jackson for months.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves set sentencing for June 8 and ordered all three to be held in custody. The three are from the town of Brandon, a Jackson suburb, and were accused of going to the majority-black capital city on numerous occasions to harass or assault black people.

Prosecutor Sheldon Beer read the allegations against the three, saying they harassed or assaulted black people who they thought were homeless or intoxicated. Victims were chosen because they thought they would not tell police, authorities said….

Thomas E. Perez, the assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division, said: “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.”

“On a number of occasions they drove around Jackson looking for African Americans to assault,” Perez said during a news conference after the hearing. “Jackson is a wonderful community, however, for these defendants they referred to Jackson as `Jafrica.’ African Americans in Jackson were subhuman to them.”

On June 26, before the murder,

Rice and Butler and others stalled Anderson until Dedmon arrived, according to allegations read in court. When Dedmon arrived, Rice punched Anderson and knocked him down. Dedmon straddled the man and beat him.

Four other people were present at the attack on Anderson. The FBI is still investigating the case, but won’t say if there will be more charged filed in the future.

At a hearing on Wednesday, Dedmon had pleaded guilty to state capital murder charges and received two life sentences. He is eligible for the death penalty, but Anderson’s family are against capital punishment, and they asked that Dedmon’s life be spared.

“We ask that you not seek the death penalty for anyone involved in James’ murder,” the letter states; the letter is signed by Barbara Anderson Young, James Craig Anderson’s sister who is in charge of, and speaks for, his estate….

“Our opposition to the death penalty is deeply rooted in our religious faith, a faith that was central in James’ life as well,” the letter states. But the family goes on to explain that there is another reason for their opposition, one that is tied to Mississippi’s racial past.

“We also oppose the death penalty because it historically has been used in Mississippi and the South primarily against people of color for killing whites,” the letter states. “Executing James’ killers will not help to balance the scales. But sparing them may help to spark a dialogue that one day will lead to the elimination of capital punishment.” [....]

“Those responsible for James’ death not only ended the life of a talented and wonderful man. They also caused our family unspeakable pain and grief. But our loss will not be lessened by the state taking the life of another,” it says.

Huffington Post reports some of what was said in court by the victim’s sister, the young murderer, and Hinds County Circuit Judge Jeff Weill Sr.

Barbara Anderson:

“My brother Craig would give you the shirt off of his back. Because of my brother, James Craig Anderson, our lives were richer, with love, respect and a love of God,” she said. “We, the Anderson family, are praying for racial reconciliation not just in Mississippi but all over this land and country. We are praying for the defendant, Dedmon, and his family that they find peace.”

Daryl Dedmon:

“I am sincerely sorry. I do take full responsibility for my actions on that night. I pray for y’all’s family every day … and that God will soften your hearts to forgive me,” Dedmon said….

“I was young. I was dumb. I was ignorant … I was not raised the way that I acted that night. I was raised in a godly house. 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 … I do not ask y’all to forget, but I do ask y’all to forgive.”

Judge Weill:

“Your prejudice has brought shame upon you and placed a great stain on the state of Mississippi. Whatever excuse you may offer for what you have done, forget that. There’s no excuse that you can offer for the family of Mr. Anderson or to your fellow Mississippians who have to try to reconcile the horrible damage you have caused,” Weill said.

Weill recalled the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers who were murdered and buried in an earthen dam in a rural area in what became known as “Mississippi Burning.”

“All the hard work we have done to move our state forward from that earthen dam in Neshoba County to here has been stained by you. A stain that will take years to fade,” the judge said.

I find it hard to believe that Dedmon didn’t learn some of that racial hatred at home, but of course I can’t know for sure. I only hope that other potential Deryl Dedmon’s as well as potential vigilantes like George Zimmerman are paying attention to this tragic case.