A Missouri woman was sentenced today to 63 months in prison for her role in the vandalism and arson of a biracial man’s home in Independence, Mo., the Department of Justice announced .
Teresa Witthar, 43, of Independence, was sentenced in the Western District of Missouri by U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple.
On Feb. 2, 2012, Witthar pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, one count of violating the Fair Housing Act and one count of obstruction of justice. Witthar’s co-conspirators, Charles Wilhelm and David Martin, pleaded guilty on March 8, 2012, and March 7, 2012, respectively, to one count of conspiracy to violate the civil rights of the victim and one count of violating the Fair Housing Act for their roles in vandalizing and burning down Nathaniel Reed’s home in Independence.
According to the plea agreement filed with the court, Witthar, Wilhelm and Martin conspired to intimidate and scare Reed, a biracial man, into moving out of the Highland Manor Mobile Home Park in Independence, in part because of his race. On or about June 6, 2006, Witthar, along with Wilhelm and Martin, entered Reed’s mobile home, without his permission, and vandalized it by writing at least 15 racially derogatory slurs on the walls of his trailer.
Two days later, on or about June 8, 2006, Witthar drove Martin and Wilhelm to a neighborhood behind Reed’s home so that they could set fire to his home without being detected. Witthar waited in her vehicle for Wilhelm and Martin to set the fire and then provided them a ride back to the Highland Manor Mobile Home Park.
The investigation further revealed that in the spring of 2011, Witthar unsuccessfully attempted to persuade another individual to testify falsely in front of a grand jury about her role in the vandalism and fire.
“Violent and destructive acts such as the arson of this man’s home seek to undermine the guarantees of equal justice and equal opportunity that are central to our laws,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to act aggressively to ensure that every American enjoys the right to occupy a home free of racially motivated intimidation and violence.”
“Today's tough sentence makes it clear that our community will not tolerate racially-motivated violence and intimidation,” said Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri David M. Ketchmark. “We are satisfied that this defendant is being held accountable for the arson, vandalism and threats that violated Mr. Reed's civil rights. By defending one victim’s right to live freely in his own home, we are upholding Constitutional freedoms for all citizens.”
Sentencing for Wilhelm is scheduled for July 24, 2012. Sentencing for Martin is scheduled for July 26, 2012.
These guilty pleas were the result of a cooperative effort between the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. This case was investigated by the Kansas City Division of the FBI. It is being prosecuted by Acting U.S. Attorney David Ketchmark for the Western District of Missouri and Trial Attorney Sheldon L. Beer of the Civil Rights Division.