By Monica Land
JACKSON – In a surprising turn of events, a 19-year-old white teen from Brandon has pleaded guilty to murder and committing a hate crime for running over a black man with his pickup truck, killing him.
Deryl Paul Dedmon was sentenced to two life sentences Wednesday afternoon for killing 49-year-old James Craig Anderson in Jackson in June 2011.
Family members said Anderson was a car plant worker who loved to sing in his church choir and was remembered for his sense of humor.
Dedmon apologized to Anderson’s family in court, saying: “I do not ask y’all to forget, but I do ask y’all to forgive.”
Dedmon was sentenced by Hinds County Circuit Judge Jeff Weill Sr.
From the very beginning, Dedmon maintained that he was innocent and was preparing to fight the charges during a trial.
His attorneys had even asked the court for a change of venue stating that Dedmon could not get a fair in trial in the majority-black populated Hinds County.
Then on Friday, March 16, a hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, March 21, but the nature of the hearing was not revealed until Wednesday morning by a spokeswoman with the Mississippi Supreme Court who said it would be a “plea hearing.”
The Associated Press reported that as members of Dedmon’s family and the victim’s relatives wiped away tears in court Wednesday, Demon said god had taught him not to see race and he was a changed man.
“I’m sincerely sorry and I take full responsibility for my actions that night,” Dedmon said. “I pray for ya’ll families everyday and god will soften your hearts to forgive me.”
Wearing a blue jumpsuit, Dedmon, looked down as prosecutors described the killing.
Dedmon admitted that he and a group of white teens were partying in Puckett, a small town outside the capital city, when he suggested they find a black man to harass and went to Jackson because of its largely black population. They found Anderson before dawn outside a hotel. He was beaten before Dedmon ran over him.
Dedmon entered a guilty plea, and thusly waived his right to a trial.
Dedmon was sentenced to life in prison, then given another life sentence as a “Hate Crime” enhancement by Judge Weill.
Another teenager, John Aaron Rice, is charged with simple assault in the case. Authorities said he left the scene before Anderson was killed. Rice has pleaded not guilty and is free on a $5,000 bond.
Prosecutors said Dedmon and others had targeted blacks for harassment before, usually homeless or drunk people who weren’t likely to report it to police.
This case, however, received widespread attention after a video of Anderson’s death was obtained by news organizations, including CNN and the Associated Press.
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 said Dedmon was driving the truck and later bragged that he ran over Anderson, using a racial slur to describe him.
“I was young. I was dumb. I was ignorant … .“ Dedmon said in court of the crime committed just last year. “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 …”
Anderson’s family asked prosecutors not to pursue the death penalty, saying they oppose it. But they have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against seven teens, including two young girls who were allegedly in the truck with Dedmon.
The victim’s sister, Barbara Anderson Young, fought back tears when she addressed the court, the AP reported.
“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.”
Judge Weill, however, had harsh words for Dedmon.
“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 3 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.
District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith will hold a press conference on the hearing on Thursday, March 22.