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Concerns over ability to find impartial jurors cited in case of man accused of running over, killing two people with ATV in 2020
By RUSSELL TURNER
The criminal trial for a man accused of killing two people and injuring several others in an ATV crash in Leakesville in 2020 will be held in Jackson County after his request for a change of venue was granted.
Attorneys for Derrick Wayne Chavers, 38, of Lucedale, filed a motion with Greene County Circuit Court this past May arguing that publicity surrounding the case would prevent him from having a fair trial in Greene County.
According to court records obtained by the Herald, Chavers’ alleged crimes have been the subject of adverse social media posts, and various local, county and state news articles .
“The abundance of adverse publicity regarding the alleged crimes will be extremely prejudicial to the Defendant in Greene County and will prevent a fair and impartial jury pool,” the motion states.
Along with the arguments in the motion, Chavers’ legal team provided the court with 30 signed affidavits from Greene County residents stating they did not believe he could receive a fair trial in a Leakesville courtroom.
“I am aware of the public sentiment against Derrick Chavers,” each of the identical affidavits signed by area residents stated. “In my opinion, he cannot, under any circumstances or restrictions, receive a fair or impartial trial in Greene County, Mississippi.”
Judge Kathy King Jackson granted the request for change of venue. The trial will take place in Jackson County, utilizing a pool of potential Jackson County residents as jurors. Court officials say the trial is expected to begin in early 2024.
Chavers is accused of driving his Can-Am Commander ATV through a group of people leaving a party on Louisiana Street in Leakesville on Dec. 12, 2020, killing two and injuring others. He was arrested in July 2021 after being indicted by a Greene County Grand Jury on two counts of manslaughter, one count of aggravated assault and one count of tampering with physical evidence. Wesley Kyle Smith, 23, of Lucedale and Thomas Levi Lewis, 17, of Runnelstown were killed in the incident, while Christopher Cody Smith, 25, of Lucedale, was seriously injured. Others sustained minor injuries.
Chavers is accused of culpable negligent operation of an ATV in the deaths of Smith and Lewis. In count three of the indictment (aggravated assault) Chavers is accused of “willful indifference to the value of human life” in causing the injuries to Smith. Count four of the indictment charges Chavers with tampering with physical evidence in the case for allegedly switching clothing with another person to hide that he was the driver of the ATV when the fatal collision occurred. The indictment does not indicate who Chavers allegedly conspired with, but according to reports in the days following the crash, Chavers told officials he was a passenger in the ATV at the time of the accident and his son, a minor who was not named, was the driver.