"They knew he was black," said Donny Butts. "And that's the only reason they ran him over because he was black. Point blank."
Donny Butts says he was told that the district attorney had said flat out that this was not a crime of race. "Well what was it? I want to know what was it, if it wasn't racist. It was just hate? I don't understand."
If the killing of Johnny Butts sounds hauntingly familiar, it's because it is, to a degree.
Just a year before Johnny Butts was killed in north Mississippi, another African-American man was killed by a group of white teens about 160 miles south in Jackson, Mississippi. James Craig Anderson, 47, died after he was beaten and run over by a truck driven by Deryl Dedmon, who was part of a group of seven whites, mostly teenagers, from largely white Rankin County who decided to "go f**k with some n*****s" after a night of partying and drinking, law enforcement officials have said, quoting some of the suspects in the case.
Anderson's death became national news after CNN obtained and released video that showed the gruesome murder as it happened.
The deadly attack and the shocking videotape prompted several large marches and prayer vigils in Jackson, a city of about 537,000 people.
Eventually, six white teens involved in that incident pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes for the attack on Anderson and for numerous other attacks on African-Americans. The driver of the truck also pleaded guilty to state murder and hate-crime charges and was sentenced to life in prison.
Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith, an African-American, was the prosecutor in the Anderson case. In the case of Johnny Butts, the prosecuting district attorney, John Champion, is white. Many African-Americans in northern Mississippi say they believe the district attorney in the Butts case is not pursuing a hate crime because of his race.
Champion told CNN that there is "no evidence at all" that Darby killed Butts out of hate, or as a hate crime. One reason a hate crime has been ruled out, Champion said, is that the teens in the car that morning could not see whether Johnny Butts was black or white.
But that is not true, according to the statements given by one of the teens in the car. In grand jury testimony obtained exclusively by CNN, Tony Hopper Jr., who was riding in the back seat, testified that he could see Johnny Butts was black before the teens hit him.