Darian Atkinson, in wrist and ankle shackles, smiled and hummed as he was led into court Wednesday morning for his initial appearance on a charge of capital murder in the killing of veteran Biloxi police officer Robert McKeithen.
The hearing was held in the courtroom at the Harrison County jail.
Atkinson, 19, is accused in the what police called a “deliberate and violent act” that resulted in the death of 57-year-old McKeithen, a patrolman. Atkinson was captured after a large manhunt that included a law enforcement helicopter.
Justice Court Judge Brandon Ladner asked Atkinson if he needed a court-appointed attorney or if he intended to pay for an attorney.
“I don’t know yet. I got to get on the phone. I ain’t got a phone call yet,” Atkinson told Ladner. “I got to talk to my folks.”
Ladner will see Atkinson in court again on Friday morning to determine if he needs help securing an attorney.
Atkinson was wearing what Harrison County Sheriff Troy Peterson described as a “suicide vest.” It was green, sleeveless and fell to Atkinson’s knees. Also called an anti-suicide smock, the garments are designed so they’re unable to be torn or wrapped into a noose.
Atkinson’s brother, Davian Atkinson, 21, is also jailed in Harrison County on a charge of accessory after the fact for allegedly aiding his brother in eluding capture. He also had his initial appearance Wednesday. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison, said Harrison County Prosecutor Herman Cox.
The judge said in court that Davian’s role after the killing was driving Darian to Wiggins and letting him make phone calls.
Davian Atkinson, wearing an orange and white jail jumpsuit, said he would hire his own attorney. He is held on a $500,000 bond.
Darian Atkinson was not entitled to a bond because he is charged with capital murder of a law enforcement officer.
A capital murder charge is murder committed during a commission of a felony offense. However, a person charged in the killing of a police officer, prosecutor or the like automatically faces a capital offense in such a killing. If convicted, Darian Atkinson could face the death penalty.
An underlying felony offense is not required in the prosecution of an alleged cop killer.
McKeithen was pronounced dead shortly after the shooting Sunday night.
His death has left a community in mourning as they try to make sense out what prompted the young man to shoot and kill the officer who was planning to retire at the end of the year. McKeithen’s family gathered with law enforcement and residents Tuesday night for a prayer vigil led by Coast pastors.