- Associated Press - Saturday, June 25, 2016

PURVIS, Miss. (AP) - A former Lamar County deputy sheriff has been ruled mentally competent to stand trial on charges of sexual battery.

WDAM-TV (http://bit.ly/2918lA1) reports that Lamar County Circuit Judge Anthony Mozingo set a January trial date on Friday for Averal “Junior” Burnett. The 49-year-old Burnett has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Burnett was convicted of attempted murder in 2014 by a Pearl River County jury for trying to kill his wife and step-daughter in a murder-for-hire scheme. Testimony showed that while jailed in Pearl River County, Burnett got a woman to bail a fellow inmate out of jail and gave him money to kill his “soon to be ex-wife” and her daughter. The inmate told Picayune police about the plan.

Hours after a judge sentenced him to 60 years on the attempted murder charges in January 2015, officials say Burnett tried to kill himself by cutting his throat while being driven to state prison in Rankin County.

“That prompted the physiological evaluation, we have been on hold waiting on it, we are and have been ready to go forward,” Lamar County District Attorney Hal Kittrell said.

Burnett’s attorney Scotty Chabert, said he plans to ask Mozingo to move the trial out of Lamar County because of extensive publicity, and to exclude discussion of the murder-for-hire conviction.

Kittrell said the additional trial is important even though Burnett has already been convicted.

“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,” he said. “The victims need this for justice.”

Burnett worked most of his 22 years in law enforcement with the Hattiesburg Police Department and retired from the Lamar County Sheriff’s Department in May 2014. Burnett’s current release date is 2074, according to the Mississippi Department of Corrections website. He’d be 107.

“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.

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Information from: WDAM-TV, http://www.wdam.com

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