By Holbrook Mohr/The Associated Pres
JACKSON – Mississippi authorities have upgraded a murder charge to capital murder for a white teenager accused of intentionally running over a black man with a pickup truck.
Capital murder in Mississippi carries the possibility of a death sentence or life without parole. It is defined as a murder that takes place during the commission of another felony.
Jackson Police Detective Det. Eric Smith told The Associated Press on Friday that the underlying felony in this case is robbery. Smith would not discuss what was allegedly stolen from 49-year-old James Craig Anderson on the morning he was killed.
Deryl Dedmon is accused of running down Anderson on June 26 with a green Ford F-250 in what authorities say was a hate crime.
Smith said the Jackson Police Department has handed its file over to the district attorney’s office. The next step will be for prosecutors to present the case to a grand jury. It will be up to the grand jury to decide if Dedmon is indicted for murder or capital murder. It’s not clear exactly when the grand jury will meet. Grand jury proceedings are secret by design.
John Aaron Rice is charged with simple assault in the case. Both Dedmon and Rice were 18 at the time of Anderson’s death.
Their attorneys have denied they were involved in a racially-motivated crime.
The FBI, meanwhile, is investigating Anderson’s death to “determine whether federal civil rights crimes occurred,” the bureau said earlier this week.
Anderson’s death sparked outrage across the country when a video was made public of him being run over near a hotel in Jackson just before dawn.
The video, taken by a hotel security camera and obtained by The Associated Press and other media, shows a Ford truck in a hotel parking lot and Anderson walking nearby on Ellis Avenue. The truck backs up and then lunges forward. Anderson’s shirt is illuminated in the headlights before he disappears under the vehicle next to the curb.
Prosecutors say the video is vital evidence in the case. Rice’s attorney, however, has said it clearly shows that his client left in a separate vehicle before Anderson was run down.
Rice had also been charged with murder, but a judge reduced the charge after police testified in July that he had left the scene in another vehicle before Anderson was run over. Prosecutors have said they will still urge a state grand jury to indict Rice for murder.
Prosecutors have said Rice should be charged with murder because he participated in an assault that escalated and led to Anderson’s death. The district attorney’s office says Dedmon and Rice were with a group of other teenagers that morning and went out looking for a random black person to assault.
Rice’s attorney, Samuel Martin, suggested during a hearing in July that the teens were on a beer run after a night of partying, not looking for a black man to assault, as prosecutors allege.
The district attorney has said racial slurs were used during the attack and that Dedmon later bragged that he “just ran that n—– over.”
Martin suggested during a line of questioning with a police detective that Rice had no knowledge of any plan to indiscriminately attack a black man and had no way of knowing Dedmon allegedly would run over the victim.
Dedmon’s attorney has not responded to numerous messages since he was charged. However, during a hearing in July, attorney Lee Agnew said he had seen nothing to back up the “racial allegations.”
Authorities have not ruled out that others at the scene could be charged.