WASHINGTON – Michael Duane Bracken, of Bolivar, Penn., pleaded guilty today to a charge related to the burning of a cross in the yard of an African-American juvenile in November 2009, the Justice Department announced today. Bracken is the last of three adult defendants to enter a guilty plea in the case, following Michael Francis Bealonis and Kenneth Paul Stiffey Jr.
Bracken, 23, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to interfere with the housing rights of another in federal court in Pittsburgh before Senior U.S. District Judge Alan N. Bloch. Information presented during the plea hearing established that Bracken and his co-conspirators agreed to burn a cross at a home of a family with three minor children, one of whom is African-American. Bracken was principal in constructing the cross on Nov. 14, 2009, and burning a smaller “practice cross” to assess how it would burn. After the 6-foot wooden cross was constructed and doused in accelerant, Bracken and others applied gasoline to the cross. One of the co-conspirators then took the cross, jumped the fence onto the backyard of the victim’s property, stuck it into the ground and ignited it.
“The burning cross is an unmistakable symbol of bigotry and hate, and to use it to threaten a family with violence because the race of a child is intolerable in this nation. That such incidents occur in 2011 is a reminder of the civil rights challenges we still face,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “We will continue to aggressively prosecute hate crimes of this kind.”
“This case underscores our commitment to vigorously pursue those who commit crimes driven by hatred or intolerance,” stated U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, David J. Hickton.
Judge Bloch remanded Bracken to the custody of the U.S. Marshals pending sentencing, which has been set for Sept. 1, 2011. The law provides for a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The case was investigated by the FBI, together with the Pennsylvania State Police. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Soo C. Song from the U.S. Attornery's Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania and Trial Attorney Patricia A. Sumner from the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.