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White Mississippi teen gets life sentence in black man's death

By Robbie Ward

STARKVILLE, Mississippi (Reuters) - A white Mississippi teenager pleaded guilty on Wednesday to fatally running over a man with a truck because he was black, and received a life prison sentence for a crime the presiding judge said left "a great stain" on the southern state.

Deryl Dedmon, 19, received two concurrent life sentences for the racially motivated murder of 49-year-old James Craig Anderson, who died after being beaten and mowed down in a motel parking lot last year.

Dedmon's admission that he killed Anderson because of his race doubled the teen's penalty under the state's hate crime statute.

"I was young, I was dumb, I was ignorant," Dedmon said during his court hearing in Jackson. "I was full of hatred."

The sentencing came as the shooting death of a black teenager by a neighborhood watch captain in Florida has again put a national spotlight on the issue of members of minority groups being targeted due to the color of their skin.

Anderson, a Nissan auto worker, was alone and returning to his car before dawn on June 26 when he was confronted by a group of white teenagers in a motel parking lot.

The teens had been drinking at a birthday party and drove to Jackson specifically to harass and assault African-Americans, whom they referred to by a derogatory name, Hinds County Assistant District Attorney Scott Rogillio said.

Dedmon and others had gone to Jackson in previous weeks with the same intent, the prosecutor said.

Dedmon and at least one other person in the group punched Anderson before Dedmon deliberately ran over him with the teen's Ford F-250 truck, Rogillio said. Anderson died at the scene.

Dedmon yelled "white power" during the attack, Rogillio said. A hotel security camera captured video of the incident.

"You have admitted killing a man simply because of his race," Circuit Court Judge Jeff Weill Sr. said. "Your prejudice has brought shame upon you and placed a great stain on the state of Mississippi."

Mississippi has a long legacy of racial discrimination and was a focal point of civil rights activity during the 1960s and since. The racist Ku Klux Klan was prominent in the state for decades and remnants of the group remain.

"Know that this craven act isn't who we are," the judge said, addressing those in the courtroom. "We can say this now. Maybe there was a time when we couldn't."

Dedmon apologized to Anderson's family members, who have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the group of white teens over the attack but asked prosecutors not to seek the death penalty for Dedmon because they oppose capital punishment.

Another teen, John Aaron Rice, has been charged with simple assault, and the investigation into the case continues on the state and federal levels, Rogillio told Reuters.

"We expect more charges coming in the near future," Rogillio said, declining to offer further details.

Rogillio said a news conference related to the investigation would be held on Thursday at the federal courthouse in Jackson. The Justice Department declined to comment.

(Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Cynthia Johnston)

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