Civil rights activists in Mississippi on Tuesday demanded that the brazen, cold-hearted hit-and-run killing of a 61-year-old Sunday school teacher be investigated under the theory that race may have been an overriding factor.
Johnny Lee Butts, 61, was struck from behind by a runaway vehicle and dragged more than 170 feet to his death last July as he strolled along a rural road during his daily four-mile walk near his dirt-patch home.
As his limp body came to rest, Butts’ head violently struck the windshield, caving in the entire glass casing, severing one of his legs and bending the steering wheel column with such force it virtually knocked a part of the apparatus well past the front driver’s seat.
Despite all the pending mayhem, then 17-year-old driver Matthew Whitten “Whit” Darby never slowed down as he approached the defenseless victim, according to witnesses, perplexing many all the more as to why the state’s district attorney would still be reluctant in deeming the crime as racially motivated.
Even the two teens traveling with Darby at the time of the crash, now 18-year-old Tony Hopper Jr., and a still unnamed 15-year-old juvenile, have since told police they warned Darby to slow down as they neared the victim but he continued to unnervingly barrel forward.
“We see a walker on the side of the road.” CNN reported one of the teens, who now admits to drinking vodka and smoking marijuana most of the night. “And I pointed out to say, ‘watch out there is a walker there.’ Whit slightly turns the steering wheel…before we knew it he ran him straight over.”
“I believe he hit him on purpose,” Hopper later told investigators. “He never hit the brakes.”
In addition, four young black teens have told police just before the deadly accident they were traveling on a nearby road when a white jeep fitting the description of the one which killed Butts veered toward them. They only escaped injury by jumping into a highway ditch. The boys added the men were laughing as they raced away. Several witnesses have stepped forward to corroborate their story, with some even insisting they even called the sheriff’s office that very morning to report just what they had observed.
None of the fact –finding mission seems to serve as much of any consolation to Donny Butts. Seven-months after his father’s death, Donny, his only son, still finds himself retracing his father’s steps that morning, desperate to make sense of the unimaginable.
“They knew he was black,” he said. “And that’s the only reason they ran him over because he was black. If it wasn’t racist, I want to know what is was… point blank.”
For some, however, the motivations of DA John Champion remain somewhat unclear. Despite all the mounting evidence, Champion is on record in insisting he still doubts the incident was motivated by race.
“I really don’t have to prove motive. It’s not one of the elements I have to prove,” he told CNN. “I think only the driver knows what the motive is. I certainly do not believe this case was race related. There is no evidence at all that Darby killed Butts out of hate.”
One reason Champion has ruled out filing hate crime charges is he contends the teens in the car could not even see if Butts was black. Rather conveniently, he suffers from a bout of amnesia when confronted with the testimony of several witnesses from that morning.