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July 25, 2011

Washington - Curtis Coffee, 19, of Salado, Ark., pleaded guilty today to criminal violations of housing rights related to his role in the Aug. 28, 2010, cross burning in front of an African-American man’s apartment in Salado, the Department of Justice announced.

Coffee, along with co-defendants, Tony Branscum, 25, and Bradley Branscum, 23, also of Salado, were indicted in November 2010, by a federal grand jury on civil rights charges and other related federal charges stemming from their participation in the cross burning. Tony and Bradley Branscum, who are cousins, pleaded guilty last week for their roles in the cross burning.

Coffee admitted in court that on the night of Aug. 28, 2010, he, along with his co-defendants, devised a plan to burn a cross in the yard of an African-American in the Salado community. Thereafter, Tony Branscum constructed a wooden cross in a workshop behind his house. The men then covered the cross in gasoline-soaked clothing and Brad Branscum drove them and the cross to the victim’s residence. Upon arriving at the residence, Coffee propped up the cross on a satellite dish and ignited it.

“The burning cross is an unmistakable symbol of bigotry and hate, and to use it to threaten a person with violence because of his race is intolerable in this nation,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “We will continue to aggressively prosecute hate crimes of this kind.”

Coffee faces up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.

This case was investigated by the Little Rock, Ark., Division of the FBI and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Ray White of the Eastern District of Arkansas and Trial Attorneys Cindy Chung and Henry Leventis of the Civil Rights Division.

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Christopher R. Thyer

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