PANOLA COUNTY, MS (abc24.com) - Investigators say Matthew Whitten Darby killed 61-year-old John Butts on Sunday by hitting him with his car, possibly because Butts was black.
Darby was in court Tuesday morning. Deputies escorted him quickly in and out of the courtroom, taking extra security precautions because of the tension surrounding the case.
Darby's bond was set at $300,000. He faces three different charges: murder, burglary of a church and felony malicious mischief.
Neighbors of the 17-year-old are appalled by the crime he's accused of committing. Panola County Sheriff's investigators say Darby saw Butts walking on highway 310, and decided to hit him with his car.
"Purposefully to kill the man?" asks Danja Bland. "This world is just getting worse and worse."
"It was daylight," says the victim's sister, Patricia Jones. "They could see. He's a minor I understand, but when are we going to start taking responsibility for our children?"
Butts family can't understand why he was targeted. He was a Sunday school teacher, who survived cancer, and getting hit by a train while at work driving a cement truck.
That accident broke his neck. While in the hospital, doctors diagnosed Butts with colon cancer.
"He survived all of that six years ago and two months," says Jones.
Police want to know if race played a part in his murder. No one answered at Darby's home Tuesday. Those living nearby say they don't know the family well. What they do know doesn't fit with the weekend terror.
"I've lived here a little over a year and everybody helps each other out. I'm totally blown away by that," says Bland.
Before the murder, investigators say Darby and a 15 year old boy also vandalized Union Baptist Church in Sardis. It's just a few miles from where Butts was killed.
"With things that are happening it makes you realize life is very short and important," Bland says.
"What is the world we're living in now where a human life means nothing?" asks Jones. "It's very sad."
Darby is charged as an adult. The 15 year old has been arrested for the church burglary. He and an 18 year old were in the car with Darby when Butts was killed, but do not face any charges for his death.