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Anderson pleads not guilty to murder

A Natchez man accused of murder and assault in a deadly Brookhaven nightclub shooting will fight the charges in court.

Justin Devon Anderson, 24, pleaded not guilty to one count of first-degree murder and six counts of aggravated assault at his formal arraignment in Lincoln County Circuit Court Monday afternoon, and his defense attorney plans to file a motion for a bond reduction after judge Michael Taylor denied the initial request. Natchez lawyer Zach Jex, who is representing Anderson, said changes in state law aimed at reducing the amount of time defendants spend in jail pre-trial were made for clients like his, and he will file the motion before Anderson’s next court appearance on Sept. 17.

“I think in my client’s case, he’s not a danger to society. He turned himself in,” Jex said. “I’m looking at filing the motion for a bond reduction. I want it as low as possible, something he can reasonably afford.”

Anderson surrendered to Brookhaven police on Nov. 29, 2017, four days after a midnight shooting at a private party at The Oasis nightclub on the corner of Martin and South First fatally wounded Brookhaven’s Billy Ray Thomas Jr., who later died of his wounds at University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Six others — four men and two women — were wounded by the gunfire. Brookhaven Police Chief Kenneth Collins said the shooting may have stemmed from an argument in the Oasis parking lot.

Assistant District Attorney Diane Jones argued against a bond reduction for Anderson because of the level of violence of the crime.

“Based on the nature of the charges, I feel the defendant represents a danger to the community at large,” she said.

But Jex countered Anderson has no violent history, is a member of a church in Natchez and has been incarcerated at the Lincoln County Jail for eight months, his family unable to afford the $500,000 bond.

“In light of the new rules, I ask my client’s bond be reduced to something he can afford,” Jex said.

Taylor denied Jex’s request, but did so without prejudice, leaving the defense an opportunity to file the request in a motion.

The hearing was short, just one session in an afternoon of arraignments in Taylor’s courtroom. Members of at least one of the victims’ family sobbed during the proceedings and left the courthouse together, while Anderson’s family conferred with Jex in the lobby.

Jex declined to comment on his strategy for defending Anderson in the upcoming trial.

“Right now, we’re just waiting on discovery,” he said.