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Modern-Day Lynching?

By Jesse Muhammad
Staff Writer | Last updated: Dec 12, 2008 - 2:38:00 PM

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Activists: dragging death of Black man was murder

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Escorted by Nation of Islam members, Jacqueline McClelland prepares to speak at the courthouse rally. Photos: Jesse Muhammad
Mr. McClellands death has drawn stirring parallels to the case of James Byrd Jr. who was brutally killed in Jasper, Tex., a decade ago after being chained to a truck by three White men and dragged over three miles.

PARIS, Texas (FinalCall.com) - Driven by a hurting mother’s call for justice, nearly three hundred protesters from across the state and country converged on the lawn of the Lamar County courthouse to speak out against what they see as a corrupt judicial system aimed at covering up the fatal dragging of 24-year-old Brandon McClelland.

Mr. McClelland’s death has drawn stirring parallels to the case of James Byrd Jr. who was brutally killed in Jasper, Tex., a decade ago after being chained to a truck by three White men and dragged over three miles.

Suspects Shannon Finley and Charles Crostley remain in the Lamar County Jail on murder charges and have not been indicted. A grand jury is scheduled to convene on Dec. 11 and a trial is not expected to take place until next spring.

“Based upon the stand that has been taken by the family and others to bring attention to this case, don’t be surprised if the defendants now try to file for a change of venue,” said Attorney Daryl Washington to The Final Call. He serves as counsel for the McClelland family.

Law officials originally declared that Mr. McClelland was the victim of a hit and run accident by an unidentified driver when his body was found around 4 a.m. on Sept. 16. Their investigative report was later changed to an accidental hit by Mr. Finley and Mr. Crostley. Several of Mr. McClelland’s body parts were dismembered as a result of being dragged over 70 feet beneath the undercarriage of the Dodge truck up and down a Lamar County road.

Mr. Finley and Mr. Crostley are also being charged with tampering with evidence for washing blood off of the pickup truck and also pouring beer onto the body of Mr. McClelland after the dragging. The pickup truck was found hidden behind the home of one of Mr. Finley’s relatives. The incident has not been declared a hate crime.

According to a Texas crime report released in 2007 by the department of public safety, there were a total of 243 hate crimes in the state. Whites made up 44 percent of the hate crime offenders compared to 14 percent for Blacks. Highways, roads, streets, and alleys accounted for 22 percent of hate crime locations, second only to residential homes at 40 percent.

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(1) A protester at the Lamar County courthouse on Nov. 17. (2) Hashim Nzinga of the New Black Panther Party speaks at the rally.

“Because the eyes of the nation are on this case, they (defendants) may say their clients now can’t get a fair trial in Paris, Texas,” said Mr. Washington. “My job is to make sure this entire process is transparent and that all charges against the suspects are pursued.”

According to an autopsy report signed by 10 medical examiners of the Dallas Southwestern Institute of Forensic Science, the “initial investigation suggested that the blunt force injuries sustained were the result of an accidental hit-and-run. However, additional investigation and developments in the case indicate that the decedent was intentionally ran over with a truck.”

The report further states, “therefore based upon the autopsy findings and the history available to us, it is our opinion that Brandon Demon McClelland, a 24-year-old black male, died as a result of blunt force injuries.” Also, the manner of death declared by the examiners was homicide.

“I had the opportunity to review the post mortem report on the body and the majority of his (Mr. McClelland) brain was absent from the body at the time it was examined,” said Dr. Joye Carter, a forensic pathology consultant, to The Final Call.

Law officials said the two White suspects hit Mr. McClelland following a late night beer run in mid-September. Mr. McClelland was dismembered as a result of being dragged over 70 feet beneath a pickup truck down a Lamar County road.

“These injuries are a combination of being run over by a motor vehicle as well as being dragged along the pavement. This is a horrific death and is rightly ruled a homicide. The Dallas County Medical Examiner office was courageous enough to rule this case a homicide after it was submitted as an accident,” said Dr. Carter, who is based in Indiana.

The U.S. Department of Justice visited Paris on the same day as the rally and town hall meeting to meet privately with the mother of the victim and hear from residents.

“We came here to listen and show our support for the community,” said Justice Dept. southwest regional director Carmelita Freeman. She could not disclose specifically how her department would help.

“Ms. Freeman told me that they are going to assist us however they can and that the new prosecutor wants to meet with me in person soon,” said Jacqueline McClelland, who was the victim’s mother.

New prosecutor appointed to case

Lamar County District Attorney Gary Young has come under fire from the McClelland family and supporters for saying the killing did not appear to be a hate crime due to friendship between the victim and the suspects. The family also wanted him removed from handling the case because he once was the court-appointed defense attorney for Mr. Finley.

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Nearly 300 people turned out for the rally at the Lamar County courthouse on Nov. 17.

Five-years-ago, Mr. Finley was charged with murder for the fatal shooting of a friend. That was the same case in which Mr. McClelland was charged with perjury for providing a false alibi for Mr. Finley’s whereabouts. Both served time in prison.

Recently, Mr. Young removed himself from Mr. McClelland case, citing his past association with Mr. Finley. Former Dallas County assistant district attorney Toby Shook has been appointed special prosecutor. Mr. Shook is known for trying the “Texas 7,” a group of offenders who escaped from a South Texas maximum security complex in 2000.

“I definitely had deep concerns about Gary Young being on the case,” said Mr. Washington. “I hope that with Shook on the case he will make sure justice is done and that everything will be transparent.”

Rally at courthouse draws hundreds

A Nov. 17 rally was led by members of the New Black Panther Party, the Nation of Islam and a lone Paris-based pastor who challenged local preachers on their decision to not attend the rally.

“Don’t sit up and talk about me in your churches because I am here with groups you don’t like,” said Rev. Fred Stovall III of Kingdom Harvest church. “The death of Brandon McClelland was the catalyst for this, but there are a lot of issues in Lamar County and Red River County that must be addressed.”

An ailing Ms. McClelland told the chanting crowd, “This is not just about my son. I just want justice to be done right for my child and for everybody’s child.”

Among the rally onlookers from an adjacent parking lot were several dozen Whites, including a Bible-waving heckler who attempted to drown out the speakers. “This is not a racist town!” he yelled.

“To the White people that are here, don’t get angry with us,” said Hashim Nzinga of the New Black Panther Party. “If you do get angry, go home and look at yourself in the mirror. We are here because on some highway in Texas a body of a Black man was found with blood dripping from it. Bones dripping from it.”

Deric Muhammad, of the Nation of Islam in Houston, warned prosecutors that “if you want to rewrite some of the history of Paris and Lamar County, handle this case properly.”

Local activist Brenda Cherry, co-founder of Citizens for Racial Equality, and Jim Blackwell, of the Tarrant County Local Organizing Committee, were among the other speakers.

The protest at the county courthouse ended with hundreds jam-packing Rev. Stovall’s nearby church for a community strategy meeting that included a panel of speakers from the rally, dialogue, the gathering of database information and the exposure of other cases from surrounding counties.

‘I will not be intimidated’

Holding back tears, the victim’s father, Bobby McCleary, described how he has been receiving threatening phone calls from Whites.

“I have been getting a lot of death threats for speaking up but I don’t care because they took away my son,” said Mr. McCleary. “He was a good kid and we going to keep fighting. I just long to hear him say the word ‘Pops’ one more time.”

Ms. McClelland has been brought into the DA’s office and questioned as to why she is calling the dragging a hate crime and why she has spoken to media outlets, like The Final Call.

“I told them I spoke to The Final Call because I wanted to get the word out. See, they have been trying to intimidate me but my only baby is gone so I don’t have anything to lose,” she said. “This is a hate crime. Friends wouldn’t do this. I will not be intimidated. This is not over because I want justice.”

“The family is planning to file a couple of lawsuits. No mother should have to bury her child. Brandon’s death will not be in vain,” said Mr. Washington, the lawyer for the victim’s family.

Related links:

Jasper-style lynching in Paris, Texas? (FCN, 10-24-2008)

Have things changed 10 years after Texas lynching? (FCN, 06-19-2008)

Still searching for justice (FCN, 12-07-1999)