Featured Story-Burdette guilty

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Derrick Burdette was allowed to visit with friends and family, and smoke a cigarette, before he was taken back to the Panola County jail following his manslaughter conviction Thursday in Batesville. He was found guilty in the shooting death of Herman Smith last January. The Panolian photo by Billy Davis

Jury agrees man killed drug dealer

By Billy Davis and Rita Howell

They heard the voice of a dead man.

Jurors seated in Batesville this week heard a recording of Herman Smith moaning in pain, struck by nine bullets that had bounced around Smith’s 375-pound body.

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The pistol rounds, fired at point blank range by Derrick Burdette last January at Still Trailer Park, created 16 entry and exit wounds in Smith — entering and leaving his right arm, his stomach and his left thigh.

But Smith, who was 54, had survived the shooting. He was still alive. And he was about to name his killer.

 “Ohhh…Uhhh,” Smith was saying when Ruby Myers, a lieutenant for the Batesville Police Department, leaned into the Grand Prix where Smith was seated behind the steering wheel.  

“Do you know who shot you, Mr. Smith?” she asked.

The microphone Myers was wearing on duty was working like a charm. It clearly picked up Smith’s moans and groans, and the police officer’s voice, too. It also picked up the name of his assailant.

“Scooter,” Smith answered. “They… called him… Scooter. His name…is… Derrick Burdette.”

For a defendant facing a jury, it doesn’t get more damning than that.

A jury of nine females and three males deliberated for approximately an hour and 20 minutes Thursday morning before announcing they had reached a verdict: Burdette was guilty of manslaughter.

Jurors chose manslaughter over a charge of murder, which would require pre-meditation.

“It wasn’t definite to us that (Burdette) went to kill (Smith),” a juror told The Panolian immediately after the murder trial was recessed after three days.

Still, the jury composed of 10 blacks and two whites returned with the guilty verdict.

Burdette was represented by public defender Larry Maxey in the murder case before Circuit Judge Smith Murphey.
Jay Hale, the assistant district attorney, presented the state’s case against Burdette.

In the three-day trial in Batesville, a procession of friends, acquaintances and family members, all testifying for the prosecution, told jurors that Burdette had bought a Sig Sauer pistol then, days later, shot Smith at Still Trailer Park in west Batesville. Smith died at The Med hours later.

With witnesses lined up against him, Burdette claimed self-defense.

On the stand Wednesday morning, Burdette described how Smith was “out to get me” because Smith had given Burdette the powerful prescription pills Lortab to sell in Crenshaw. When Burdette claimed to Smith the pills had been stolen from him, he recalled that Smith flashed a .380 pistol to several people and said it was for Burdette, and word trickled back to Burdette that he was a wanted man.

But there was a problem with that claim: Burdette failed to tell Batesville police, or even his family, that Smith had produced a pistol and Burdette returned fire in self-defense.

“If it was me I would have been screaming to the rooftops he had a gun,” Assistant District Attorney Jay Hale told Burdette under cross-examination

“It wasn’t up to me to convince the police,” Burdette said. “It was up to me to convince these people,” referring to the jury.

Burdette also appealed to the mostly black jury, telling them others could back up his self-defense claim but did not want to cooperate with police.

“That was a joke,” a juror, who is also black, later told The Panolian.

Burdette, now 23, climbed into the back seat of a car on January 26, 2011, and rode with five people to Panola Apartments in Batesville. Burdette had convinced driver Shawanda Rushing to park at the apartments while he walked to nearby Still Trailer Park to obtain more prescription drugs from Smith.

Except for a pregnant mother-to-be, everybody else in the automobile admitted under oath they were smoking marijuana and crack cocaine, and downing Lortabs and Xanax, on their way from Falcon, Mississippi to Batesville.

Timothy Curry, a cousin to Burdette who also rode in the back seat, testified that he was passed out in the back seat after drinking beer behind the mix of other narcotics.

When he talked to his cousin later, Curry testified Burdette claimed he “unloaded on him,” referring to Smith.

Shawanda Rushing testified she was “rolling up my blunts” and drinking beer in her car at Panola Apartments when she heard gunfire from the trailer park.

Rushing panicked and began to drive away. But she picked up Burdette and another passenger, Robert Walker Jr., as they fled on foot from the mobile home park.

Walker testified on the witness stand that he never saw Smith produce a pistol.  

Jurors also heard from Batesville police detectives George Williford and Paul Shivers, and from Lt. Myers.

Williford, the lead detective in the murder case, said Smith also told him at Tri-Lakes Medical Center that Burdette had shot him.

Shivers testified that he and Williford retrieved the murder weapon from Water Valley, where a relative was keeping it at Burdette’s request.

Dr. Paul McGarry, who performed the autopsy on Smith, testified about the multiple gunshot wounds and the fatal wound to Smith’s severed liver.

Herman Smith’s mother, Murtis Smith, testified that her son named Burdette as the shooter while her son was being treated at Tri-Lakes.

For the defense, Maxey put three witnesses on the stand who claimed Smith had threatened to kill Burdette.

One of them, Quinton Ellis, was Burdette’s cellmate at the Panola County jail.

Hale told jurors another witness, LaDarious Harris, had been called only minutes before, by Burdette’s sister, to testify for Burdette.  

The third defense witness, James Fletcher, claimed Burdette told him in a phone conversation that Smith wanted him dead after Burdette sprayed him with mace.

After the three witnesses were finished, Judge Murphey sent jurors back to the jury room. He then told Burdette he is not required to testify and any lack of testimony is not an admission of guilt.

“I’ve advised you to seek the advice of your attorney before making a final decision,” Murphey told Burdette.

“I also came up with my final decision, too,” Burdette said.

The jurors then filed back into the jury box and Burdette took the stand.

Burdette’s sentencing is pending. He was taken into custody without handcuffs at the courthouse, where he was allowed to smoke a cigarette and hug family members before he was led away.