Three Men Plead Guilty to Federal Hate Crimes for Brutal Murder of African American Man

The three men who committed the grisly, senseless murder depicted in this video just plead guilty to Federal hate crimes.

The Justice Department announced today that Deryl Paul Dedmon, 19, John Aaron Rice, 19, and Dylan Wade Butler, 20, all from Brandon, Miss., pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Jackson to federal hate crime charges in connection with an assault culminating in the death of James Craig Anderson, an African-American man, in the summer of 2011.

Dedmon, Rice and Butler were each charged with one count of conspiracy and one count of violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, for their roles in the death-resulting assault of Anderson, 47, of Jackson, Miss.  Dedmon, Rice and Butler entered guilty pleas to both counts.  The maximum penalty for these charges is life in prison and a $250,000 fine.

“We hope that today’s guilty pleas provide some closure to the victim’s family and to the grievously wounded community that has mourned Mr. Anderson’s death,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “Today’s historic pleas mark the first time that the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act has been used in a case where the defendants’ actions resulted in a victim’s death.  The Department of Justice will vigorously pursue those who commit racially motivated assaults and will use every tool at our disposal to ensure that those who commit such acts are brought to justice.  And I note that our investigation in this matter is ongoing.”

While Anderson’s murder attracted a great deal of attention, the string of assaults Dedmon and his conspirators committed did not.

Today in court, Dedmon, Rice and Butler admitted that beginning in the spring of 2011, they and others conspired with one another to harass and assault African-Americans in and around west Jackson. On numerous occasions, the co-conspirators used dangerous weapons, including beer bottles, sling shots and motor vehicles, to cause, and attempt to cause, bodily injury to African-Americans.  They would specifically target African-Americans they believed to be homeless or under the influence of alcohol because they believed that such individuals would be less likely to report an assault.  The co-conspirators would often boast about these racially motivated assaults.

Dedmon also plead guilty to state charges yesterday.

The case is an interesting first second use of Federal hate crimes legislation (NPR describes the first case in which it was used here). It is a perfect example of a hate crime. This murder is every bit as ugly as those of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, for whom the Federal hate crime law was named.

But it’s not a case where local prosecutors were unwilling to prosecute. Though they were unable to charge Dedmon for capital murder, because the killers did not rob Anderson.

Dedmon was indicted for capital murder, which in Mississippi carries a sentence of death or life in prison without parole, but District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith said prosecutors couldn’t have gotten a conviction. For capital murder, there must be an underlying offense, which had been robbery. Smith said that the investigation revealed that the group did not take Anderson’s wallet, as investigators first believed.

He plead guilty to murder and a hate crime.

Incidentally, Anderson’s family has asked that Dedmon not be executed; they don’t believe in capital punishment. His sister said this at the state hearing.

“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.”

May the Anderson family, at least, find peace. May Mississippi find peace.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

15 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    I suppose bmaz can give us more insight, but it would seem to me that when people accept plea deals like this, the alternative they faced was pretty much a slam-dunk, and likely much worse.

  2. MadDog says:

    @emptywheel: Perhaps it came down to which Mississippi prison he got sent to.

    They’ve got 3 state prisons, a bunch of “county/regional correctional facilities”, and some “private” prisons.

    I didn’t find out what the difference is between the various Mississippi correctional institutions at their website, but I would note that even the “private” prisons had some with all levels of custody (i.e. up to and including maximum security).

  3. jo6pac says:

    The maximum penalty for these charges is life in prison and a $250,000 fine.

    Is this what they recieved or what they can recieve? I don’t see where they have been sentenced yet.

  4. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: The DOJ’s website is not available right now so I can’t read their press release to see if the men are going to Federal prison rather than to a Mississippi state facility.

    In any event, to add to my previous comment regarding where they are going to be incarcerated, and whether that played a role in their plea agreement, at times when I’ve inadvertently caught Lockdown on MSNBC, there seems to be a number of jails and prisons across the country where they segregate the prisoners based euphemistically on “gang association” (e.g. keeping the Aryan Brotherhood in different areas from the Crips and Bloods).

    Perhaps an incarceration location choice where segregation was in place like this was a factor in the plea deal. Considering the undeniable racial hate crime nature of the offenses, one could well imagine that these 3 had zero interest in being imprisoned in a “integrated” institution.

  5. MadDog says:

    @jo6pac: Ok, the DOJ site is back up now and I read their press release. No indication there whether the 3 men will serve their time in Federal or a Mississippi state facility.

    Any bets? Generally speaking, and I may be biased here, but if it were me, I’d rather go to a Federal facility rather than a Mississippi state facility.

  6. emptywheel says:

    @jo6pac: It’s an ongoing investigation. My suspicion is they’re investigating the other assaults. But I suspect that’s the only way this guy avoids life.

  7. bmaz says:

    @emptywheel: @jo6pac: @MadDog:

    No real clue, but my guess is if the state conviction was primary in order, and more severe in term, it takes precedence. Also, of course, that way the federal govt does not have to pay for him.

    That said, although authorities will claim it cannot be done, it is quite common for crim pleas to be centered on not only the corrections facility assigned, but the housing unit therein applicable.

  8. BeccaM says:

    Actually, the first time the DOJ used the new hate crimes law was for a disabled Navajo man in Farmington NM who was tortured and swastika-branded by some local thug-bigots. The charges were filed in November 2010.

    And in point of fact, since its inception in October 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act has never been used to prosecute a hate crime against a gay, lesbian, or transgendered person, or a crime motivated by the perceived sexual orientation or gender of the victim. That’s over 2 1/2 years where apparently there hasn’t been a single LGBT-bias crime worthy of Federal hate crimes intervention, despite the thousands of crimes reported every year.

  9. MadDog says:

    @bmaz: Where both Federal and State charges are involved, would a guilty plea deal that offered incarceration in one or the other facility be unusual?

    Seems to this layperson that there really wouldn’t be much more that could be offered (given that likely conviction was a slam dunk).

  10. MadDog says:

    @BeccaM:

    “…And in point of fact, since its inception in October 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act has never been used to prosecute a hate crime against a gay, lesbian, or transgendered person…”

    Amazing considering the very crimes that gave life to that law.

  11. guest says:

    @MadDog: Not so amazing if you’re gay or lesbian, just par for the course. But you’d think there must have been thousands of these “persecutions” from all the white conservatives (including especially Miss Sullivan) bitching and moaning about hate crimes only applying to whites.

  12. emptywheel says:

    @BeccaM: I suspect they’re trying to roll out this law to make it palatable–thus their involvement in this one, even though it was prosecuted locally.

    Even given the racist leanings of a lot of GOPers, I don’t think they can object to this crime being treated as a hate crime. Then they’ll apply it to others, once hte new law has gotten acceptance.

    FWIW, that may not be legally comforting, but it is probably politically smart.

    As it is, I’m still not convinced Treyvon’s case will merit hate crimes, bc it is so disputed whether Zimmerman called him a “coon.” We shall see.

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