Junior Burnett deemed mentally competent, trial date set

Junior Burnett deemed mentally competent, trial date set
Junior Burnett was deemed mentally competent despite a suicide attempt last year. He will stand trial in January. Source: WDAM

LAMAR COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - A former Pine Belt lawman convicted of attempted capital murder was back in a Lamar County courtroom Friday for a competence hearing.

Averal "Junior" Burnett, 49, was deemed mentally competent to stand trial for sexual battery charges, and the date was set for Jan. 23, 2017.

"This is a day we've been waiting on because we've been waiting to get this case set for trial, we've been waiting a year and a half for a physiological evaluation, that came back in May and this is the first court hearing we have had, and the state has been ready to proceed," 15th Circuit Court District Attorney Hal Kittrell said.

Burnett tried to commit suicide hours after his 2014 conviction for two counts of attempted capital murder, while being transported to the Central Mississippi Regional Correctional Facility.

While guards were checking their weapons at the gate, Burnett used a razor blade he hid in his mouth to cut his throat.

"That prompted the physiological evaluation, we have been on hold waiting on it, we are and have been ready to go forward," Kittrell said. "January 23rd is within our time frame, we are ready to go, we are ready to go tomorrow."

Burnett stood before Circuit Judge Anthony Mozingo wearing a yellow jumpsuit to answer questions during the hearing.

"He is a dangerous man, for him to go forward, not only with the atrocious acts which he committed upon the victim we have here in the Lamar County matter, the fact that he goes down and absolutely attempts a murder for hire, he's a dangerous man," Kittrell said. "He has a law enforcement background so you have to be concerned with that."

Burnett served the majority of his 22 years in law enforcement with the Hattiesburg Police Department and officially retired from the Lamar County Sheriff's Department on May 16, 2014.

Over the years, Burnett has received several areas of training, including patrol, S.W.A.T., chemical weapons, firearms, undercover work, as well as K-9 training.

"I will say that this is a priority item for us as you can appreciate, both with the original charge to go with what happened down in Pearl River County. I said it in earlier reports and I'm saying it now, he's a dangerous man, and we now have him gone for 60 years for the attempted capital murder," Kittrell said. "We've got him tucked away where he needs to be, he doesn't need to be among us, but we are still going forward with the other charges, the victims need this for justice."

Burnett was escorted by members of the Lamar County Sheriff's Department SRT Team, and they also held a perimeter around the courthouse before and after the hearing.

Burnett's attorney Scotty Chabert stayed by his side during the hearing, while he answered questions for Judge Mozingo.

"We are going to be filing motions in the next couple of weeks, we are going to ask for an expert to be appointed, also ask for a change of venue, this case has got a lot of coverage, and we feel like the only way to get a fair trial is to go somewhere else," Scotty Chabert said.

Chabert added that they will file a motion to keep his previous conviction out of the upcoming trial.

Motions for the case will be heard on Aug. 8 and Aug. 22 with the trial set to begin on Jan. 23, 2017.

"As far as I'm concerned, Junior Burnett needs to stay in jail just as long as he can stay in jail, and that's what we are here to ensure," Kittrell said.