JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A federal grand jury in Mississippi met recently to consider more hate-crime charges in the death of a black man who was run over by a white teenager, a person familiar with the case told The Associated Press Thursday.
Three white men have pleaded guilty to federal hate crime charges in the death of James Craig Anderson, a black, 47-year-old car plant worker who was run over with a pickup truck near a Jackson hotel before dawn on June 26, 2011.
Deryl Dedmon, 20, who was driving the truck, also pleaded guilty to state murder and hate-crime charges in March and was given two life sentences. Dedmon and two others, Dylan Butler and John Aaron Rice, await sentencing on the federal charges.
Months after the three pleaded guilty, a federal grand jury met in August as part of an ongoing investigation, according to a person with knowledge of the case who requested anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publically. It’s not clear if more indictments are coming.
But police have said at least four other people were at the scene on the night of Anderson’s death, including two teenage girls who were in the truck with Dedmon. So far none of them have been charged, but an FBI spokeswoman said Thursday that the investigation continues.
The U.S. Justice Department declined to comment.
Sheila Wilbanks, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Jackson, said she couldn’t comment on whether “something is or is not being brought before a federal grand jury.” Grand jury testimony is secret.
Prosecutors say Dedmon, Rice and Butler, and others from the suburbs, were involved in an ongoing campaign of harassing and assaulting blacks in Jackson. It’s possible the grand jury could be looking into other attacks.
Prosecutors say Dedmon and the others chose victims who appeared to be drunk or homeless for random assaults because they thought those people wouldn’t tell police. The harassment culminated in Anderson’s death, prosecutors say.
Dedmon’s lawyer Cynthia Stewart said a sentencing date is set for Oct. 11 on the federal charges, but that could be pushed back. She had no comment on the investigation.
Jackson attorney Merrida Coxwell said Thursday that he represents one of the girls in the truck, Shelbie Richards.
Coxwell said prosecutors wanted Richards to plead guilty to hate crime charges around the same time Dedmon, Butler and Rice did in March. Richards was 17 at the time of Anderson’s death, but recently turned 18, Coxwell said.
“They just wanted her to enter a plea bargain and she was not able to plead guilty to something she doesn’t feel like she’s guilty of,” Coxwell said. “With all due respect to the prosecutors, we have a disagreement over the facts of the case.”
Coxwell said Richards had only known Dedmon and the others for a short time and had no way of knowing Dedmon would run over someone.
“She’s saddened by what has happened. She’s been very distraught. She’s obviously afraid that the government would take the position that anyone around them should plead guilty,” Coxwell said. But, he added, “She didn’t get out of the car. She didn’t hurt anybody.”
When Dedmon, Rice and Butler pleaded guilty in federal court, they admitted to a narrative of accusations read by a prosecutor that went like this:
The three had been terrorizing blacks for weeks and were at a party when they asked others to tag along to search for blacks to victimize. They got in two separate cars and headed for Jackson.
Rice and Butler and others found Anderson at a Jackson hotel, and stalled him until Dedmon arrived. When Dedmon got there, Rice punched Anderson and knocked him down. Dedmon straddled the man and beat him.
A video from a hotel surveillance camera shows Rice and Butler and others in a white Jeep Cherokee leaving the hotel parking lot at 5:05 a.m. Less than 20 seconds later, Dedmon’s green Ford F-250 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 later bragged that he ran over Anderson, using a racial slur to describe him, prosecutors say.
When he pleaded guilty to the state charge, Dedmon said he was “a changed man.”
“God showed me that we are all made in the image of God so we are all based on the same thing,” he said to Anderson’s family. “I do not ask y’all to forget, but I do ask y’all to forgive.”
Anderson’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against seven people who were at the scene that night. The lawsuit says the three people who remained in the vehicles acted as lookouts.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.