The family of Johnny Lee Butts says his killing was a hate crime.

Story highlights

Matthew Darby pleads guilty to manslaughter and burglary

He was accused of running over 61-year-old Johnny Lee Butts in Mississippi in 2012

The Butts family called it a hate crime; Darby's lawyer blamed 'intoxicated' teens

CNN  — 

A Mississippi teenager faces 27 years in prison after running over and killing a man walking along a rural highway in a case the victim’s family called a hate crime.

Matthew Darby, 18, pleaded guilty earlier this week to manslaughter in the July 2012 death of 61-year-old Johnny Lee Butts. Companions put Darby at the wheel of the white Chevrolet that hit Butts from behind on a highway in Panola County, about 150 miles north of Jackson.

Butts was black. Two teens who were in the car the morning Butts was killed said they and Darby – all white – had been drinking vodka and smoking marijuana all night.

The Monte Carlo hit Butts with such force that the windshield collapsed into the car, bending the steering wheel back sharply. His leg was nearly severed, and his body was found more than 170 feet from where he was struck, according to court records. Investigators estimate the vehicle was traveling somewhere between 55 and 70 mph.

Butts’ family told CNN they believed their father was killed because he was black and questioned why the murder charge against Darby didn’t reflect that.

Darby’s lawyer, Tony Farese, told reporters earlier this week that the death was no hate crime, but “a tragic situation by young people who were intoxicated.”

Butts’ family met with Darby in jail for three hours last week, their lawyer, Wilbur Colom, said Thursday. Colom said the teen was extremely remorseful and asked for forgiveness but never admitted anything about a hate crime.

“In the end, we were not convinced it wasn’t a hate crime,” Colom said. “But in the end, we were also not convinced we would get anything more desirable than 27 years.”

Darby also pleaded guilty to a separate burglary count in a deal with prosecutors that a judge approved on Monday. He was sentenced to 20 years on the manslaughter charge and an additional, consecutive seven years for burglary, the district attorney’s office told CNN.

CNN’s Scott Bronstein contributed to this report.