Trial for teen accused of killing South Mississippi police officer to be tried in front of Rankin County jury

Published 1:27 pm Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The case of a then-teenager accused of killing a police officer on the Mississippi coast will be tried in front of a central Mississippi jury, a judge ruled this week.

Judge Christopher Schmidt ordered that Darian Atkinson’s trial go before a Rankin County jury, although the trial will be held in Biloxi.

Atkinson, now 21, is accused of fatally shooting police officer Robert “Mac” McKeithen outside a public safety center in Biloxi on May 5, 2019.

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The Sun Herald reports that Schmidt ruled that Atkinson can be sentenced to the death penalty or life without parole, if he is convicted of capital murder.

The judge said he is considering whether to allow people to show signs of support for McKeithen and his family outside the courthouse or in the courtroom during the trial. Schmidt is also considering whether to allow law enforcement officers who attend the trial — other than a police chief — to wear their uniforms.

Atkinson’s trial is set for Sept. 27, although public defender Angela Blackwell said she plans to ask for a trial delay due to the surge of COVID-19 in the state.

The defense attorney said she initially planned to argue an insanity defense for Atkinson, or that he acted under extreme mental distress. Schmidt has ruled Atkinson is mentally competent to stand trial.