Local residents in Mississippi who knew of Deryl Dedmon, the 19-year-old-man facing capital murder and hate crime charges for the killing of James Anderson, say he had a violent history, used racial slurs and derogatory phrases to describe African-Americans and allegedly participated in two other hate crimes before the Anderson's murder on June 26.
Dedmon has pleaded not guilty in Anderson's slaying. The case has drawn national headlines because of its brutality and for its racial undertones. Anderson, a 49-year-old black man, was seen being physically assaulted and then run over with a Ford F250 pick-up truck on surveillance footage that was later released to CNN.
But parents and students who knew Dedmon tell CNN that the teenager was widely known for being violent and openly expressing a hatred for blacks, white people who had black friends and anyone he thought was gay. He was also on probation at the time of Anderson's killing after being convicted of phone harassment, a misdemeanor.
"He hung out with the people that flippantly just used the n-word," Jordan Richardson, who had a violent interaction with Dedmon, told CNN.
"I say this as a pastor -- there are a lot of spiritual aspects that I believe we're dealing with. And I believe we're dealing with a young man that seemed to have a hole in his soul," one resident who knew of Anderson told CNN. "And it was to me painfully clear."
An unidentified teen who claims he used to hang out with Dedmon says what that happened on June 26 was no accident. "They went out there that night looking for a black individual to beat up ... they've done it before," he said. "They've done it several times before."
Department of Justice investigators say there are two other possible incidents where groups of white Rankin County teens, including Dedmon, sought out and attacked African-Americans.
In September, Dedmon reportedly told a Hinds County detective he was looking for "some sort of revenge" for being robbed weeks earlier, according to the AP.
While Dedmon faces capital murder and hate crime charges that could lead to a death sentence, Anderson's family has publicly come out in opposition to the death penalty. "Our opposition to the death penalty is deeply rooted in our religious faith, a faith that was central in James' life as well," the family wrote in a letter. "We also oppose the death penalty because it historically has been used in Mississippi and the South primarily against people of color for killing whites," the letter continued. "Executing James' killers will not help to balance the scales. But sparing them may help to spark a dialogue that one day will lead to the elimination of capital punishment."