Hinds Co. judge who presided over De La Beckwith trial passes away

Hinds Co. judge who presided over De La Beckwith trial passes away
Hinds Co. judge who presided over De La Beckwith trial passes away (Source: WLBT)

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A judge who presided over the murder case of the man who assassinated civil rights icon Medgar Evers has died.

Tuesday, the Mississippi Administrative Office of Courts confirmed that former Hinds County Circuit Judge Breland Hilburn had passed away.

Hilburn, who was at one time the senior circuit judge for Hinds County, sentenced Byron De La Beckwith to life in prison following his conviction in Beckwith’s 1994 murder trial.

Reporter Jerry Mitchell, who covered the trial, said Hilburn handled case well, as well as the pressure associated with it.

“It was a historic case,” he recalled. “Press from all over the world was there. I thought he did a good job.”

Hilburn served for 30 years on various local benches, including the Hinds County Circuit Court and county court. He also served as a Jackson municipal judge.

He retired from the bench in 2002, but later served as a senior status judge and was appointed by the Mississippi Supreme Court to help Hinds County with its heavy criminal caseload.

As a senior status judge, Hilburn also presided over matters involving former Madison County Circuit Judge Bill Weisenberger and former Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree.

Hinds County Senior Circuit Judge Tomie Green served as an assistant district attorney in Hilburn’s courtroom before eventually being elected and serving with him as a fellow circuit judge.

Initially, she said Hilburn handled the Yazoo County docket before Yazoo became part of a different judicial district. He also handled the Raymond docket and a portion of the circuit court cases heard in the capital city.

“We looked to him for leadership and he gave us that,” she said.

Former Hinds County Circuit Clerk Barbara Dunn and retired Circuit Judge William Gowan remember Hilburn as someone who looked at being a judge as a public service.

“He never tried to impress people with being a judge,” Gowan said. “He was a public servant who could identify with the public.”

Dunn said Hilburn “was a wealth of information. He was very fair (and) very knowledgeable of the law,” adding that he was easy to work with and was considerate of court staff.

“He will be missed by everyone that knew Breland,” Gowan said. “We’ve been friends forever.”

Gowan and Hilburn had known each other since they were students at Bailey Junior High School.

Hilburn earned a bachelor’s of science from Mississippi State University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Mississippi School of Law.

He is survived by his wife JoAnn, three children, and two stepchildren.

Details of Hilburn’s death were not immediately available.

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