Venue change sought in alleged hate-crime case

By Holbrook Mohr/The Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A judge will weigh arguments Thursday whether to move the trial of a white Mississippi teenager charged with intentionally using a pickup truck to run over a black man.

Deryl Dedmon has pleaded not guilty to capital murder in the June 2011 death of James Craig Anderson, a 49-year-old car plant worker from Jackson. Prosecutors have termed it a hate crime.

Dedmon’s attorneys have filed motions to move the trial out of Hinds County, home to Mississippi’s majority-black capital city. Dedmon, 19, signed an affidavit on Monday that says he believes he can’t get a fair trial because of extensive news coverage in the case.

“Since this case involved a crime allegedly committed by a white person against a black victim, an element which favors a move, there has been more pervasive publicity than in an ordinary case which increases the likelihood of prejudice and consequently weigh in favor of a change of venue,” Dedmon’s attorney wrote in court records.

District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith did not immediately respond to a message Tuesday from The Associated Press.

The FBI also is investigating the case.

Authorities say seven white teens were partying into the early morning hours the day of Anderson’s death when Dedmon suggested they find a black man to “mess with.” Police say Anderson was beaten before Dedmon ran him down before dawn near a hotel on Ellis Avenue.

One other teenager, John Aaron Rice, is charged in the case. Rice is charged with simple assault because a judge reduced the charge from murder after a detective testified that Rice left the scene in another car before Anderson died.

The case has been the subject of dozens of local and national news stories and received widespread attention after a video of Anderson’s death was obtained by news organizations, including the AP.

The video taken by a hotel surveillance camera shows a white Jeep Cherokee in which Rice was allegedly a passenger leaving a hotel parking lot at 5:05 a.m. Less than 20 seconds later, a Ford 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. Police say Dedmon was driving the truck and later bragged that he ran over Anderson, using a racial slur to describe him.

Dedmon is charged with capital murder, which in Mississippi is defined as murder committed along with another felony. It carries the sentences of death or life in prison without parole. The underlying offense in this case is robbery. Dedmon also was charged under Mississippi’s hate crime law, which provides for tougher sentences.

Anderson’s family has asked prosecutors not to pursue the death penalty, saying they’re opposed to capital punishment.

Anderson’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against all seven teens, including two young girls who were allegedly in the truck with Dedmon.

Rice has been free on a $5,000 bond. Dedmon has been held without bail.