RALEIGH, Miss. — The mother of a man accused of burning a cross in another man's yard and beating and shooting him said Tuesday she believes her son is guilty of a hate crime.
Jeff Daniels, 37, is free on $20,000 bond after being charged with aggravated assault for allegedly beating and shooting Craig Wilson on Aug. 15.
But Jeff Daniels insists he knows nothing about the incident. He and his mother, Gaylene Daniels, have very different accounts of what happened that day.
"I didn't know nothing about no cross," said Daniels, who spent three nights in the Smith County Jail after being charged with the aggravated assault.
On Aug. 2, Gaylene Daniels said Wilson, her companion of 12 years, had his mixed-race grandchildren staying with the couple for the weekend.
When she heard a knock at the door, she said she went outside. She screamed when she saw the sight — a burning cross.
She ran toward the flaming wood, knocked it over and stomped out the flames, she said. She said she recognized the wood as treated lumber her son had.
"I knew the wood," she said. "I knew where it came from."
In addition to the wood, she said she saw her son's dog, named "Jack Daniels."
The dog, she said, follows her son everywhere.
She said she had heard of her son's anger toward the grandchildren's racial makeup, but that he hadn't expressed it to her personally.
At his home in Raleigh on Tuesday, Daniels, now free on $20,000 bond, said he saw the grandchildren, who he has only met about three times in his life, when they were in his yard one day.
At the time of the cross burning, he said he was out running his rabbit dogs about two miles away.
In fact, he said, he didn't learn about the cross burning until the next day.
Last Friday night, he said he was washing his truck when his daughter's friend told him that his daughter, Kaitlin, was at the home, and there was fighting.
Jeff Daniels said when he approached the house, Wilson came toward him with a gun.
Daniels said he grabbed the hand that was holding the gun, and they fell to the ground.
"I'm thinking, 'If I can knock him out, I can get the gun and put it in my pocket, so I knocked him about six times hard," he recalled.
Eventually, the gun went off, and Daniels said he saw a "big blue ball of fire, my ears popped and my body went numb. They said I was screaming to call the ambulance, 'I'm shot, I'm shot,'" he said.
Daniels' wife, Leslie, who said she watched the whole thing, thought her husband had been shot before realizing it was Wilson who had a gunshot wound in the lower abdomen.
Gaylene Daniels' version of the events last Friday differ substantially.
She said they were having a family cookout when Jeff's daughter, Kaitlin, attacked her, and she had to pull her hair to get her off.
After this, her son, Jeff, and her grandson, Dillian, attacked Wilson.
She said she ran into the house to get her cellphone to call the sheriff's office.
Witnesses told authorities that the two men were beating and stomping Wilson and that Jeff was using brass knuckles.
According to witnesses, after being severely beaten, Wilson pulled out a pistol from his pocket, and the two men struggled over it.
According to witnesses, Jeff fired the gun, which hit Wilson in the stomach.
After the shooting, Gaylene said her son came up and grabbed her and said, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
Wilson had surgery Tuesday at the University of Mississippi Medical Center to repair his intestines. His condition was upgraded from critical to fair.
For two decades, Mississippi has had a hate crime law that has promised to enhance criminal penalties, but the law has rarely been used.
The first hate crime conviction didn't come until 2012 when Deryl Dedmon, now 22, of Brandon, pleaded guilty to the murder of 49-year-old James C. Anderson in Jackson and received two life sentences without parole.
Under Mississippi law, the penalties can be imposed "if the felony or misdemeanor was committed because of the actual or perceived race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, national origin or gender of the victim."
Smith County Sheriff Charlie Crumpton said the wording of Mississippi's law won't allow authorities to pursue a hate crime enhancement in this case.