Mississippi father ‘outraged’ after bail reduced for man who was acquitted for his son’s death then was arrested for capital murder 45 days later

Published 8:51 am Wednesday, June 28, 2023

A father says he is “outraged” by news that the Mississippi man acquitted of killing his son has been given a reduced bail in a second capital murder case.

Justin Devon Anderson was granted a bail reduction June 21 from $1 million to $150,000 on capital murder charges in the July 21, 2019 death of Zariah Antel Newton. Anderson has been in jail since July 22, 2019.

Billy Thomas Sr. of Brookhaven said Monday if the justice system had worked, Anderson would have been convicted of the 2017 murder of his son, Billy Jr. at the Oasis Club, and would not have been free when Newton was killed in 2019. Billy Thomas Jr. was killed Nov. 25, 2017. Six others were also shot, but were not killed. Anderson, the police’s only suspect in that crime, turned himself in to Brookhaven Police on Wednesday, Nov. 29.

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“Seeing that news, that his bail was reduced, it made it like yesterday when my son was killed,” Thomas said. “The whole town is outraged about this.”

Anderson was found not guilty of first-degree murder in Thomas Jr.’s death after a three-day jury trial in May 2019. At the time of trial, Anderson’s bail in that case was set at $150,000.

Just two months later, in July 2019, Anderson was one of four individuals accused of burglarizing Newton’s home on Mason Street in Brookhaven.

One of the suspects — Shawan F. Allen, 20 — was killed in a shootout with law enforcement the day after the burglary. Police located and arrested 19-year-old suspect Jatavious Berry. A third suspect, 18-year-old Adrian Smith, was arrested at Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport in Jackson as he attempted to flee. The final suspect, Anderson — then 24 and a resident of Natchez — surrendered to Natchez Police Department on Monday, July 22.

“He told us he was somewhere in Louisiana and wanted to come and turn himself in at the sheriff’s office,” Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten told media at the time.

In his son’s case, Thomas said no one from the District Attorney’s office contacted his family for eight months after the incident. Then the family received a call from Lincoln County District Attorney Dee Bates saying the case couldn’t go forward with the evidence prosecutors had on hand.

Some evidence Thomas called “vital” was deemed inadmissible due to errors by investigators, he said. Thomas also said Bates allowed Anderson’s defense attorney Zachary Jex to contact state witnesses without anyone from the DA’s office present, and he didn’t think that should have happened.

Bates on Monday said he is sympathetic to Thomas’ frustrations and concerns.

“The state cannot prevent a defense attorney from making contact with state’s witnesses,” Bates said. “We can be there if they request it, but we cannot prevent it. And admissibility is strictly up to the judge.”

The burden lies on the justice system and not the community, Thomas said.

“The community does a great job getting information to the Brookhaven Police Department and the justice system,” he said. “But the justice system is failing Brookhaven because they are not good at their job — everybody dropped the ball.”

In the first-degree murder case of Thomas Jr., Bates said the jury reached the verdict after swearing to an oath, so he can’t dispute that. “But the state disagreed,” he said. “If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have prosecuted it.”

“I definitely understand his frustration with the criminal justice system,” Bates said. “I haven’t lost a child. I can’t imagine losing a child, especially to violence.”

Bates argued for bail to remain high for Anderson in the 2019 murder case, but said he respects Judge Michael Taylor and his decision.

“The justice system is not fair,” Thomas said. “People are afraid to testify because they know what’s going to happen. The justice system is steadily putting people back out on the street.”

Regardless of the final verdict in his son’s case, Thomas said he still believes Anderson’s bail was set too low in that case. “Anderson’s bail should have been set the same as (Smith) at $2 million because he was trying to get on a plane, and Anderson said himself he was in Louisiana. How can they say he’s not a flight risk when he was in Louisiana?” Thomas said. “It should at least have stayed at $1 million. That would have kept him in jail. He hasn’t been anywhere in four years.”

“How can you get acquitted on a first-degree murder charge and 45 days later get charged with capital murder?” Thomas said. “It was a missed opportunity in the first case.”