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Detective: Miss. teen wasn't at the scene when black man was run down in alleged hate crime
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) ' A police detective testified Monday that a white 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.
The testimony prompted a judge to set a $5,000 bond for John Aaron Rice, 18, and to send the case to a grand jury on a reduced charge of simple assault. Rice had previously been jailed without bond on a murder charge.
The detective testified that Rice left in a different car before James Anderson was killed. Deryl Dedmon, also 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.
Members of Anderson's family gasped when Hinds County Judge William Barnett made his decision. Rice's relatives embraced and hurried from the courtroom.
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.
Smith has called the attack a hate crime because he claims the teenagers came to Jackson with the intentions of assaulting a black man. Dedmon and Rice are from Brandon in Rankin County, about 15 miles east of Jackson.
Rice's attorney, however, suggested they came to buy beer because stores where they live stop selling alcohol earlier in the night.
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."