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August 17th, 2011
12:29 PM ET

Feds join probe of alleged hate killing

A hit-and-run killing that took place after a group of white teens allegedly set out to kill a black man simply because of his color is now being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department, federal and Mississippi officials tell CNN.

The killing, which a Jackson, Mississippi, district attorney says is a racially motivated hate crime, sparked national attention after CNN’s Drew Griffin reported the story with exclusive surveillance video that shows the attack as it took place.

James Craig Anderson, 49, was first beaten by the group of teens as he stood in a hotel parking lot early on the morning of June 26, according to some of the teens who were interviewed by police.

After the beating, a group of the teens drove a large Ford pickup truck over Anderson, according to witnesses and officials.  Anderson died from his injuries later the same day.

Federal investigators are in Jackson at the request of Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith, who says he will be seeking indictments against some or all of the white teens in coming weeks.

Under federal law, authorities can pursue further charges and punishment if it is determined that a crime was racially motivated.  Officials from the U.S. Department of Justice confirmed to CNN that "the department has an ongoing investigation."

The group of teens that night was led by 18-year-old Deryl Dedmon Jr., of Brandon, Mississippi, according to police and officials in the DA's office.

Dedmon, who was arrested and charged with murder, is being held in Jackson.  He could face two life sentences in connection with the killing.

Another teen, John Aaron Rice, was also charged with murder at first, until a judge reduced his charges to “simple assault” because Rice was not believed to be driving the vehicle used to kill Anderson.

Smith and officials in the Hinds County District Attorney's office say they plan to indict both Dedmon and Rice for murder and a hate crime.

Attorneys for Dedmon and Rice did not return CNN's calls.

During a bond hearing, Dedmon's attorney told the court he saw nothing to back up the "racial allegations."

Neither teen has pleaded yet, and none of the other teens has been charged.

But Hinds and officials from the DA's office say they hope to bring indictments against not only Dedmon and Rice, but also other teens who were in their cars and part of the attack that early morning.

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