NAACP-Matthew Darby

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 3, 2012

NAACP asks for inquiry as grand jury indicts teen

By Billy Davis

A day after the Mississippi NAACP called for an outside investigation, a Panola County grand jury was indicting a white teenager for murder.

Local authorities allege Matthew Darby, 17, of Senatobia, was behind the wheel of a car that struck and killed Johnny Lee Butts on July 22 along Highway 310 east of Como.

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The grand jury, meeting in Sardis, indicted Darby just 10 days after Butts was declared dead at the scene near Blue Room Road. He was 61.

Authorities have said two other white teenagers were passengers in the automobile but they have not been charged in Butts’ death.

The passengers were 18 and 15, and one of them was charged along with Darby for burglarizing Union Baptist Church before the alleged hit-and-run.  

Authorities found pieces of an automobile at the hit-and-run scene and immediately began looking for a white Monte Carlo.

Darby turned himself in at the sheriff’s office hours after Butts was killed, but authorities did not state publicly if he confessed to running over Butts during his early-morning walk.

District Attorney John Champion told the Associated Press earlier in the week that Darby’s case was being presented Wednesday — an unusual announcement since grand jury proceedings are done in secret.

The same day Champion made that announcement, Mississippi NAACP leader Derrick Johnson held a news conference in Jackson calling for an outside inquiry following Butts’ death according to media reports.

Family members of Butts were present at the news conference.

At the press conference, Johnson likened the hit-and-run to the June 2011 killing of James Anderson in Jackson, who was also black and was run over by a white teen driving a pickup truck.

“At this point we are just trying to make sure there is a full investigation of the incident,” Johnson said of the Panola County incident.

Reached by phone Thursday, Johnson said the NAACP is asking for state and federal agencies to investigate if the hit-and-run was racially motivated, which he said could trigger both state and federal hate crime statutes if the investigation suggests Darby intentionally hit Butts.   

Johnson also said he is asking for state and federal agencies to investigate “all those involved,” including the two white passengers in the Monte Carlo.

Champion said on Tuesday the FBI was meeting with state investigators this week about the hit-and-run investigation.

Panola County authorities have not said if they believe the hit-and-run was racially motivated, and Champion told the media he would not comment about evidence in the case.

Panola Sheriff Dennis Darby said Thursday his department is cooperating with the FBI as the federal agency investigates the racial angle following Butts’ death.

“We are moving forward on the state-level charge,” Darby said of the murder indictment. “The FBI is checking into the other.”

Panola sheriff’s investigator Barry Thompson is the lead investigator on the case and is working with the FBI, said the sheriff.

Sheriff Darby has also told The Panolian he is not related to the defendant, who shares his last name.