When the body of a 24-year-old Black man in Paris, Texas, was discovered in the middle of a busy Texas road, law enforcement declared the case a hit-and-run by an unidentified driver.
Now the small, racially divided town’s worst fears are brewing, with evidence pointing towards two white men who had picked up Brandon McClelland in their Dodge truck before he was found mutilated and dismembered last month. Forensics by the Texas Rangers discovered blood from McClelland and other DNA evidence on the undercarriage of the truck, which has the family calling it a “Jasper-style” lynching. “They tied my son to that truck and dragged him until his body parts were detached,” said his mother, Jacqueline McClelland. “His body was so destroyed that it could not even be embalmed by the funeral home. This is a hate crime. I don’t want the death penalty for these killers because that would be too quick. I want them to suffer for life in jail without parole since I will never have my son back.” The Lamar County district attorney has taken the stance that race is not a factor in the death of Mr. McClelland, being that he was friends with the alleged assailants Shannon Finley and Charles Ryan Crostley, both of whom are 27 years old. But angry family and community activists are demanding a thorough investigation by Paris authorities as a possible hate crime, paralleling the lynching of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas, which is situated several hours south of Paris. In 1998,Byrd was strapped to a pickup truck and dragged to death by three white supremacists, who were eventually convicted of murder. The case spurred massive protests and drew international outcry, which Paris authorities are trying to avoid but may have a hard time doing.
According to a police report, McClelland was walking in front of the pickup a little after 4 a.m. on Sept.16 when Finley and Crostley allegedly ran him down and then dragged him up and down a Lamar County road until his disfigured body popped out from beneath the chassis. “I don’t see how it was racial, being as how they were good friends,” said Stacy McNeal to the local press. He is the Texas Ranger who is leading the investigation. “This was not a hit-and-run. They [Finley’s family] hid the truck and even tried to wash the blood off. The police didn’t even tape off the crime scene and some of my son’s body parts were still lying out there,” said Ms. McClelland, as she wiped away tears. “If that would have been a white person killed, they would have handled this immediately. This is just like Jasper,” she said. It was also stated that the family was forced to have the funeral immediately due to pressure applied to the funeral home director, although they desired to delay it for further investigation. “He [the funeral director] was told by the police to hurry up and put the body in the ground because they didn’t want any trouble coming to this town,” said Ms. McClelland. “They took the life of my only son.” “I was awakened by our dog barking around 4:25 a.m., but I couldn’t see what occurred because our camper trailer was blocking my view from my back porch. I wish I could have seen more,” said a white resident, Mrs. Baker. She along with her husband and son live a few feet from the scene of the crime. “We think this is horrible,” said Mr. Baker, who added that their home is in proximity to the residences of eight law enforcement officers so “things like this hardly happen over here and this was sad.” Crostley was arrested and is being held in the Lamar County Jail with a bail exceeding $500,000. Finley has waived his right to extradition from Wichita, Kan., where he was arrested. Both men are charged with murder and tampering with evidence. In 2003,Lamar County District Attorney Gary Young served as Finley’s court-appointed defense attorney when Finley pleaded guilty to manslaughter for shooting a friend to death. The victim in Finley’s manslaughter case was white and he told police that he was sitting in a truck with his friend when two Black men supposedly tried to rob them.
Mr. Finley said he fired at the robbers, but accidentally shot his friend. It was later determined in an autopsy that the victim suffered three gunshot wounds to the head, but the district attorney at the time accepted Finley’s contention that the shooting was an accident and offered him a plea bargain on a reduced manslaughter charge. He would eventually serve a little over a year of a four-year prison sentence and the alleged robbers were never apprehended. It was also in this case that McClelland falsely testified before a grand jury that Finley was with him at the time of the shooting. For lying under oath, McClelland was convicted of aggravated perjury and served over two years in prison.
GRASSROOTS GROUPS ON THE GROUND
Members of the New Black Panther Party (NBPP), Houston Millions More Movement and the Nation of Islam conducted a fact-finding mission in Paris on Oct.5 to comfort the grieving family, interview witnesses and to plan a massive town hall meeting at the end of the month.
“We want justice for this family and we want these two criminals prosecuted to the fullness of the law,” said Krystal Muhammad of the NBPP. “We will be closely monitoring this case.” Members of the NBPP met with District Attorney Young on Oct. 6 and held a press conference in downtown. “We are asking for an outside agency to come in and ensure that justice is served,” said NBPP member Derrick Brown. “This is a hate crime,” said Paris activist Brenda Cherry.
She has been working with the McClelland family. “This is just like Jasper all over again.” “This killing does not surprise me and it bears witness to the racism that still exists in Paris and other towns,” said Creola Cotton. Ms. Cotton knows first-hand about Paris’ racial disparities. Last year, her then 14-year-old Black daughter, Shaquanda Cotton, was sentenced by a local judge to up to seven years for shoving a hall monitor at her high school. Just three months earlier, the same judge had sentenced a 14-year-old white girl to probation after convicting her of arson on her family’s house. The case drew national attention and resulted in her daughter’s early release from prison. “Recently, after nooses started popping up everywhere, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan warned us that these types of hate-filled activities would increase,” said Deric Muhammad of the Millions More Movement, who visited the family and the crime scene. “That crime scene looked like the aftermath of a bloody lynching. If this is not a hate crime, I don’t know what is.”