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Mississippi teen pleads not guilty in hate crime case

By Scott Bronstein and Drew Griffin, CNN Special Investigations Unit
updated 6:06 PM EDT, Fri September 30, 2011
Deryl Paul Dedmon, 19, pleaded not guilty Friday to capital murder charges.
Deryl Paul Dedmon, 19, pleaded not guilty Friday to capital murder charges.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Authorities say he was part of a group that beat and killed a black man
  • He faces the death penalty if convicted
  • The family of the dead man opposes the death penalty

Editor's note: This story contains language that some readers may consider offensive.

Jackson, Mississippi (CNN) -- A white Mississippi teenager accused of murdering an African-American man in a hate crime pleaded not guilty in his arraignment Friday.

Deryl Dedmon, 19, is charged with capital murder and a hate crime in the death of James Craig Anderson, stemming from an incident involving a gang of white teenagers who allegedly attacked Anderson early in the morning of June 26.

Dedmon showed no emotion, expressed no remorse, and made no further statements at the hearing before Hinds County Circuit Judge Jeff Weill Friday morning.

The teenager was part of a group of seven white teens, all from largely white Rankin County who, after a night of partying and drinking, decided to "go fuck with some niggers," law enforcement officials have said, quoting some of the suspects in the case.

The teens drove 16 miles in two vehicles from Rankin County to Jackson, where after exiting the highway they found Anderson alone in a parking lot at about 4 a.m. on Sunday June 26. The teens allegedly beat him repeatedly, yelling racial epithets. After the beating, Dedmon drove his Ford F-250 truck over Anderson, leaving him to die of his wounds, according to what some of the teens cooperating with police have told authorities.

The Hinds County District Attorney, Robert Shuler Smith, who is prosecuting the case, has said he and his team "believe that the evidence will show that these teenagers went out with the intention to harm and, in this case, kill a black man."

Killing caught on video
Kin of alleged hate crime victim sue

Dedmon is the only one of the teens in jail at this time; his bond was denied again on Friday..

Anderson's death drew national attention after CNN first reported it and aired exclusive surveillance video of the actual killing, captured by a parking lot security camera in a Jackson suburb.

U.S. Department of Justice investigators are now in Jackson, investigating the death as a possible federal hate crime and assisting local prosecutors. The killing has also prompted several large marches and prayer vigils in Jackson, a city of about 537,000 people.

Dedmon, of Brandon, Mississippi, is facing the death penalty if convicted. A second teen, John Aaron Rice, 18, was initially charged with murder, but a judge reduced the charges to simple assault because Rice was not believed to be driving the vehicle used to kill Anderson.

The family of Anderson has sent a letter asking state and federal officials not to seek the death penalty against the white teens.

"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, Anderson's sister who is in charge of, and speaks for, the estate of Anderson.

The letter states that the family is opposed to the death penalty partly for religious convictions of faith.

"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 letter also goes on to explain that there is a historical reason for the family's opposition 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."

The Anderson family has also filed a wrongful death suit against all seven of the white teens who were present at the beating of Anderson which immediately preceded the drive-over of the truck. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nationally recognized organization in Montgomery, Ala. that opposes racism and intolerance, joined in the lawsuit to help the case, joining forces with the family's attorney, Winston J. Thompson III..

"James Anderson lost his life for no other reason than the color of his skin," said Morris Dees, chief trial counsel for the SPLC . "Those responsible must be held accountable for their callous and deadly actions. We are filing this lawsuit today to ensure his family gets a measure of justice."

In addition to Dedmon and Rice, the five other teens who took part in the incident that evening, according to the suit, are: Sarah Graves, of Crystal Springs; Shelbie Richards, of Pearl; and William Kirk Montgomery, John Blaylock and Dylan Butler, all of Brandon. None of the five has been arrested or charged.

Anderson, a line worker at a Nissan plant, sang in his church choir, Thompson told reporters. He leaves behind his partner of 17 years.

"He was just a pillar of the community," Thompson said. "He paid his taxes on time, he went to work, came home -- he was just an average, ordinary citizen, good guy, wonderful gardener."

"Anyone who knew James could see that he was a caring man with a beautiful smile," said Anderson's sister, Barbara Anderson Young, in a previous statement. "He was such a compassionate person. We must take an honest look at the racial climate that motivated some young people to hurt such a wonderful person."

During a bond hearing, Dedmon's attorney told the court he saw nothing to back up the "racial allegations."

A civil trial can proceed at the same time as a criminal case, but often the civil case is delayed pending the resolution of a criminal trial. While a criminal case is pending, a defendant in a civil case may need to invoke the Fifth Amendment.

The lawsuit alleges all seven of the teens "took part in what we call a joint venture, to seek out and do harm to a person of color," Thompson said.

Authorities believe Dedmon led and instigated the attack.

The gang of teens climbed into Dedmon's green truck and a white SUV and drove to the western edge of Jackson. They would have seen Anderson immediately as they exited the highway, officials said. He was standing in a hotel parking lot just beyond the exit ramp.

On the videotape obtained exclusively by CNN, the group of teens is seen pulling into the parking lot and stopping where Anderson is standing, although he is just off camera and not visible.

The teens can then be seen going back and forth between their cars and Anderson. Witnesses told authorities this is when Anderson's beating took place, as the teens yelled racial epithets including "white power."

Authorities allege Dedmon and many of the other teens pummeled Anderson repeatedly as he crumpled to the ground, although this is not visible on the tape. After the beating, some of the teens left and others got into the green Ford truck.

At this moment, Anderson becomes visible on the tape as he staggers into view and walked toward the truck.

"Defendant Dedmon drove the F-250 out of the parking lot and turned right onto Ellis Avenue," the lawsuit says. "Just as Dedmon turned right, his headlights shone directly on Anderson, who, having been severely beaten, was stumbling in a grassy are near the motel's entrance. Dedmon accelerated, drove onto and over the street curb, and struck Anderson with the front of the F-250."

Shortly afterward, Dedmon allegedly boasted and laughed about the killing, according to statements some of the teens made to detectives. "I ran that nigger over," he allegedly said in a phone conversation to the teens in the other car.

"He was not remorseful," District Attorney Smith said. "He was laughing, laughing about the killing."

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