Crime

Private attorney or public defender? After GoFundMe debacle, Darian Atkinson has lawyer

Darian Atkinson, accused of shooting and killing Biloxi police officer Robert McKeithen, now has an attorney after three appearances in front of Justice Court Judge Brandon Ladner.

Atkinson’s initial appearance was Wednesday, when he told Ladner he had to talk to his parents before he could make a decision on a court-appointed attorney.

Ladner set another hearing with Atkinson Friday morning at the Harrison County jail. He is charged with capital murder and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Atkinson told Ladner on Friday he would be seeking his own attorney and left the courtroom.

Shortly after, Harrison County public defender Theressa Lyons told Ladner that someone from the public defender’s office needed to represent Atkinson. Lyons told the judge that Atkinson’s mother said they would not be hiring a private attorney.

Lyons also noted that a GoFundMe campaign created to help fund an attorney for Atkinson had been shut down.

Because of the nature of the case, Lyons wanted a public defender assigned to Atkinson so the attorney could start preparing for a preliminary hearing, which will likely be sometime in mid-June.

Ladner brought Atkinson back into the courtroom to ask if he could appoint a public defender to him now.

Atkinson said he was concerned that the public defender’s office had correlations to the police department.

Ladner and Lyons explained to him that there was no correlation.

“Our office is separate and apart and we don’t have any affiliation with the police department or district attorney’s office in any way,” Lyons said.

Counsel needed to work through some issues with Atkinson as soon as possible, Lyons said, including his request to be removed from suicide watch.

Ladner also explained that Atkinson could still hire a private attorney at any time or request a court-appointed attorney from outside the public defender’s office from the next judge.

Then, it was revealed in court that a Circuit Court judge had already appointed a public defender to Atkinson. Attorney Lisa Collums will represent Atkinson, a 19-year-old Biloxi High graduate who told Ladner in court Friday that he was homeless before getting arrested.

Darian’s brother, Davian Atkinson, is charged with accessory after the fact in the case. He was also assigned a court-appointed attorney.

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