JACKSON, Miss. – A police detective testified Monday that a white Mississippi teenager wasn't at the scene when a black man was killed by a pickup truck in what authorities have said was a hate crime.
A prosecutor has called the June 26 attack that killed James Anderson a hate crime because he claims the two accused teenagers drove from about 15 miles away into Jackson with the intention of finding a black man to assault. One of the teen's defense attorneys says they went into the city to buy beer because stores in their town of Brandon stopped selling alcohol earlier in the night.
Deryl Dedmon, 18, is accused of running over Anderson in a green Ford F-250 just before dawn on June 26 near a Jackson hotel. Dedmon is charged with murder and is jailed on $800,000 bond.
His companion that night, John Aaron Rice, appeared in court Monday. He was previously held without bond on a murder charge, but the police detective's testimony placing away from Anderson's death led the judge to reduce the charge.
The detective testified that Rice left in a different car before Anderson was killed. Members of Anderson's family gasped when Hinds County Judge William Barnett made his decision. Rice's relatives embraced and hurried from the courtroom.
Rice's charge was reduced to simple assault and it will be sent to a grand jury. He posted $5,000 bond and was released Monday afternoon.
Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith said after the hearing that a grand jury could consider a stiffer crime than assault for Rice and that Monday's decision deals mainly with the bond amount.
"You never know what one of the judges will do. We know the facts support the (murder) charge," Smith said.
Detective Eric Smith testified that Dedmon had been robbed in the weeks before Anderson's death and that he was looking for "some sort of revenge," though there was no evidence Anderson was responsible for the robbery. On June 26, Dedmon and Rice were at a party when Dedmon came up with the idea to "come to Jackson to mess with some people," the detective said.
Seven people allegedly headed to Jackson in two cars, with Dedmon and Rice in separate vehicles.
The detective said Rice was a passenger in a Jeep that arrived first at the Jackson hotel off Ellis Avenue. He said Rice saw Anderson near a car and thought he was trying to break into it. Instead, it appears Anderson had locked his keys inside his own vehicle.
Rice told authorities he tried to help Anderson get into the vehicle, but the detective said an altercation took place when Dedmon arrived.
The officer said Rice punched Anderson, knocking him down, before Dedmon attacked the dazed man.
The detective said surveillance tape from the hotel shows the vehicle Rice was in leave the hotel first. Then, less than 30 seconds later, the truck Dedmon allegedly was driving ran over a curb and hit Anderson. The officer's testimony contradicted earlier statements by the district attorney that Anderson had been run over "several times."
Prosecutors say Rice is just as responsible for Anderson's death because he is accused of starting the fight.
Rice's lawyer, Samuel Martin, however, argued Monday that his client shouldn't be charged with murder because he wasn't at the scene when Anderson was struck. Martin said the fight happened separately from Anderson's killing.
"It's not reasonable to believe that he had any idea that (Anderson being run over) was going to happen," Martin told the judge.
Rice sat stoically through most of the hearing, wearing a blue jumpsuit and shackles. Attorneys for Dedmon, who was not in court Monday, have not responded to several messages left by The Associated Press since Anderson's death. During a previous hearing for Dedmon, his lawyer, Lee Agnew, said he's seen nothing to back up the "racial allegations."
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