New Indictments in 2011 Mississippi Truck Murder Case

The ghosts of Mississippi cannot rest.

Three years after a middle-aged black auto plant worker named James Anderson was killed in Jackson, Miss., when he was deliberately run over by a gang of white suburban teenagers in a pickup truck, federal law enforcement officials announced yesterday a new round of criminal indictments in the case that shocked and embarrassed the state.

The killing was captured on a security camera, broadcast across the country and churned up painful memories and images of Mississippi’s not-so-distant past of racial violence.

During the attack, which included a savage beating in a motel parking lot in the early morning hours of June 26, 2011, someone in the truck shouted “White Power.”

On Wednesday, federal law enforcement officials announced that three of the people believed to have been in the pickup – Louis Blalack, who is now 20, Sarah A. Graves, 21, and Shelbie B. Richards, 20 – have been charged “with a racially motivated hate crime resulting in the death of a victim run over by a truck.”

Along with another suspected member of the gang of white youths, Robert H. Rice, 23, the three were also charged, according to a federal news release, for their alleged “roles in a conspiracy to commit federal hate crimes against African-American people in Jackson, Mississippi.”

For weeks before Anderson, 49, was killed, the group had been cruising the nighttime streets of Jackson in a two-car caravan, hunting, harassing and hurting African Americans.

They often carried pistols and beer bottles. Their main targets were the homeless and the high.

“The co-conspirators are alleged to have specifically targeted African-American people 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,” acting assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis for the Southern District of Mississippi said in the release yesterday. “The co-conspirators would often boast about these racially motivated assaults.”

They all pleaded not guilty in federal court yesterday and were each released on $100,000 unsecured bond with stiff conditions, according to WJTV News Channel 12.

The station reported that Anderson’s sister, Barbara, was in court yesterday and quoted her as saying after the proceedings, “We have been coping because we are a close knit family and the grace of the Lord has brought us so far, and will continue to believe that justice will be done.”

The group’s alleged ringleader and the driver of the pickup truck that night, Deryl Dedmon, pleaded guilty to murder and a hate-crime charge in state court in 2012. Dedmon was sentenced to life in prison. He was 19. He also pleaded guilty to federal hate crime charges.

According to the Department of Justice news release, defendants John A. Rice, 19, Dylan W. Butler, 21, William K. Montgomery, 23, Jonathan K. Gaskamp, 20 and Joseph Dominick, 22, have previously entered guilty pleas in connection with their roles in what the federal authorities call a “racially motivated hate crimes spree.”

The defendants in the new round of indictments face a statutory maximum sentence of life in prison.

Tom Fortner, the lawyer representing Sarah Graves, told The Associated Press today that he is waiting for more documents from the government. "They've played this pretty close to the vest," Fortner told the AP. "They haven't provided us all the witness statements and reports yet. Things will develop as we get that material and we try to figure out what is going on."

A trial date has been set for Sept. 15.

“I do not ask y’all to forget, but I do ask y’all to forgive,” The New York Times quoted Dedmon, the gang ringleader, saying to Anderson’s family when Dedmon was sentenced to life in prison. “I wish I could take it all back. I was young and dumb, ignorant and full of hatred.”