Four Jackson, Mississippi, men have been ordered to pay $840,000 to the estate of James Craig Anderson, a Black man they murdered on June 26, 2011.
The four men Deryl Paul Dedmon, 23; John Aaron Rice, 23; Dylan Wade Butler, 24; and William Kirk Montgomery, 26 were convicted in 2012 of committing a racially motivated act that resulted in Anderson’s death. They were each convicted on a variety of charges and for varying lengths of time, with Dedmon sentenced to the most at 50 years.
In addition to Dedmon, Rice, Butler and Montgomery, Jonathan Kyle Gaskamp, 23; John Louis Blalack, 21; Joseph Paul Dominick, 24; Shelbie Brooke Richards, 22; and Sarah Adelia Graves, 22, all pleaded guilty to various charges for their participation on the night of the murder.
Dedmon, Rice, Butler, Montgomery and the others made outings to what they called “Jafrica” (a combination of predominantly Black Jackson, Mississippi, and Africa) during the summer of 2011 in search of Black people to terrorize. They targeted Black individuals who appeared to be drunk or homeless because they were less likely to fight back or report the crimes. Anderson was not their first target; in one instance, they beat an unidentified Black man on a golf course so badly that he begged for his life. But in Anderson’s case, video surveillance in the parking lot caught the crime on tape.
On the night of Anderson’s murder, the attackers who were teenagers at the time selected their victim because he was Black and appeared to be intoxicated. The group found him in a motel parking lot and Rice and Butler began beating him. During the attack at least one of the perpetrators allegedly yelled, “White power!” They robbed Anderson of his cell phone, ring and wallet.
After the assault the attackers left, but Dedmon, who was 18 at the time, stayed behind and ran a badly beaten Anderson over with his pickup truck. He later bragged to his friends about running Anderson over and called the victim a racial epithet. The surveillance video caught the actual murder and Anderson’s final moments on camera.
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 “criminalizes willfully causing bodily injury (or attempting to do so with fire, firearm, or other dangerous weapon) when the crime was committed because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin of any person.”
In total, 10 people plead guilty to their role in the attack. At Blalack’s sentencing, when asked what he did while the others beat Anderson, his only response was, “I watched.”
Dedmon, Rice, Butler and Montgomery were considered the most prominent co-conspirators. The court settled on $840,000 because it is the estimated amount Anderson would have earned over the remainder of his life. All four men are liable to pay the money, but any one of them may be required to pay it in full if the others don’t make contributions.
“When these defendants committed this brutal hate crime, they not only took a man’s life, they also hurt a family,” said Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, which prosecuted the restitution case.
And according to a judge, they did much more than that. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves sentenced Dedmon, Butler and Rice in February 2015. Judge Reeves, who is the second Black federal judge to be appointed in Mississippi, gave a powerful speech at the sentencing, in which he said this crime and the others that went unidentified and unreported invoked Jim Crow-era lynchings in the state of Mississippi:
“Hate comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and from this case, we know it comes in different sexes and ages. A toxic mix of alcohol, foolishness and unadulterated hatred caused these young people to resurrect the nightmarish specter of lynchings and lynch mobs from the Mississippi we long to forget. Like the marauders of ages past, these young folk conspired, planned, and coordinated a plan of attack on certain neighborhoods in the city of Jackson for the sole purpose of harassing, terrorizing, physically assaulting and causing bodily injury to black folk.”
Judge Reeves also compared Anderson’s death to that of Emmett Till. Till, 14, was lynched in Mississippi in August of 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman. He also named other Blacks who were lynched in the state and said, “On June 26, 2011, four days short of his 49th birthday, the blood of James Anderson was added to Mississippi’s soil.”
Anderson left behind a 4-year-old son and a partner of 17 years, James Bradfield. In a statement read by a prosecutor (Bradfield was too emotional to speak himself) at the sentencing last February, he said, “There’s no room on earth for people like you.”
While there is no evidence that the murder had anything to do with Anderson’s sexual orientation, Robert Shuler Smith, the Hinds County district attorney, said at the time of the murder, “These teenagers have a history of harassing white teens who had black friends or gay teens.”
Had Anderson’s brutal attack not been caught on tape, it is unclear how many more people would have suffered and potentially been killed at the hands of the racist group.
Judge Reeves hopes the restitution can serve as the beginning of closure for Anderson’s grieving family.
“The purpose of this is to make the estate of James Anderson whole,” he said. “I know it’s been a long, long process, but I certainly hope the healing has begun and certainly hope the healing continues for all.”