Anderson murder trial to stay in Lincoln County

Published 10:28 pm Monday, February 25, 2019

The murder trial of a suspect accused of killing a Brookhaven man and shooting seven others will remain in Lincoln County.

Circuit Judge Michael Taylor denied a request by Justin Anderson’s attorney to move the trial because of publicity following the mass shooting.

Justin Devon Anderson, 24, is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Billy Ray Thomas Jr. He is also charged with six counts of aggravated assault for shooting of Kentrell E. Tucker, Joshua Thomas,  Breanna L. Johnson, Tyquonesha S. Dickey, Samual C. Seals and Sylvester Williams during the same incident over Thanksgiving weekend.

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Anderson surrendered to Brookhaven police Nov. 29, 2017. He was released on $115,000 bond Oct. 26 with the understanding that he stay away from Lincoln County except for hearings and his trial. Anderson’s initial bond of $1 million was already reduced to $500,000 at his arraignment where he pleaded not guilty to his charges. Defense attorney Zachary Jex has said Anderson, who had no prior felony or misdemeanor charges against him, would live with his mother and aunt in Natchez and be willing to wear an ankle bracelet.

Jex filed a motion in October to have the trial moved claiming Anderson’s surrender and subsequent appearances has saturated local and regional news and the Brookhaven Police Department’s Facebook page. Jex said Tucker, one of the six wounded in the shooting, was one of the 105 people who shared the police department’s post, saying “Can’t wait till you go to prison.”

The district attorney’s office called four people to the stand during the hearing — including Lincoln County Tax Assessor/Collector Blake Pickering and Lincoln County Chief Deputy Johnny Hall Jr. — to testify they’ve not been inundated with news of the shooting since it happened November 2017, nor do they hear people talking about it now even after the accounts of subsequent hearings have been published in The Daily Leader.

Taylor ruled against the motion for change of venue because media coverage of a murder trial is not uncommon, he said. He expects they’ll summon a slightly larger panel of potential jurors to hear this case. He said jurors who have already formed an opinion of the defendant’s guilt or innocence will be eliminated during questioning.

“I feel certain we will have enough jurors,” he said. “I am confident we can seat a jury that has not been tainted.”

Taylor did not rule on a motion to suppress any of Tucker’s pre-trial identification of Anderson as the Oasis Club shooter due to an improper lineup. Jex said police Sgt. Jonathan Alford suggested during his interview with Tucker hours after the shooting that Anderson was the man who pulled the trigger.

Jex said Alford showed Tucker a photograph of Anderson at the police station the night of the shooting and identified him as “Cat,” a nickname for Anderson.

Alford took the stand during the hearing and said Chief Kenneth Collins called him and said victims at the hospital were identifying “Cat” as the shooter.

Alford said during the interview “Kantrell said ‘Cat’ is who shot Billy.” He left the witness to remove a photo of Anderson from the bulletin board on display in the police training room which was posted because Anderson was wanted in connection with another case. He showed that picture to Tucker to confirm the “Cat” that he was talking about was Anderson, who Alford also knew as “Cat.”

Jex asked Alford why he didn’t just show Tucker a lineup.

“We had a killer on the loose,” Alford said.

Tucker testified he knew Anderson before he saw him at the Oasis Club because Anderson dated Tucker’s cousin and had also been in an incident with one of Tucker’s friends. He said he saw Anderson a few times that night at the club.

“He came and spoke to Billy,” he said, adding the confrontation “was not friendly.”

Assistant district attorney Diane Jones asked, “Did you see who shot Billy?”

Tucker nodded toward Anderson, who was seated in a dress suit and trousers at the defense table.

“Justin Anderson,” he said.