AFRICANGLOBE – Last July on a Mississippi morning, 61-year-old Johnny Lee Butts was fatally hit by a Monte Carlo automobile driven by a teenagers and two passengers. The vehicle struck Butts at between 55 and 70 miles per hour, tossing him 172 feet.
The boys fled the scene. Later, the two passengers who were in the vehicle turned themselves in, and reported that the driver, Matthew Whitten “Whit” Darby, had steered the car across the road to hit Johnny Lee Butts on the opposite side of the street, never breaking. Johnny Lee Butts was Black, Darby is white.
Though Darby is being charged with murder, Panola County District Attorney John Champion has not charged the 18-year-old with a hate crime. Butts’s relatives believe that hate was Darby’s only possible motive when he turned his car to strike Johnny Lee Butts. In an interview with CNN, Champion, who is White, denied the possibility of the incident being a hate crime.
“I really don’t have to prove motive, it’s not one of the elements I have to prove. I think only the driver knows what the motive is. I certainly do not believe in this case it was race related, though,” he said
The prosecuting attorney claims that the investigative team on the case did look into the racial elements of the case, but did not find a reason to charge Darby with a hate crime, claiming that the teenagers were unable to identify Johnny Lee Butts’ race before they hit him.
However, statements from one of the teens in the car contradict Champion’s claim; 18-year-old Tony Hopper Jr. told police and a grand jury that they could tell Johnny Lee Butts’ race before they hit him, according to reports.
“They knew he was Black,” said Donny Butts, the victim’s. “And that’s the only reason they ran him over, because he was Black. Point blank.”
Johnny Lee Butts’ case is similar to the 2011 murder of James Craig Anderson in Jackson, Miss. James Craig Anderson was attacked by a gang of White men and teenagers, who beat him and ran him over with a truck. Six of the teens pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes. The driver was sentenced to life in prison, after being found guilty of murder and hate crimes. The case was prosecuted in Hinds County, under District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith, a Black man.