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Federal Jury Convicts Two for Cross Burning

WASHINGTON – A federal jury today convicted Christopher Mitchell and James Bradley Weems of burning a cross in front of the home of an African-American man in Fouke, Ark. The jury convicted each defendant of one count of conspiracy to violate the victim’s civil rights.

The evidence at trial established that on the night of August 5, 2005, Mitchell and Weems, attended a party where they discussed an African-American man who lived nearby, using racial slurs to describe him. The defendants, along with a third man, Christopher Baird, who had pleaded guilty to his role in the offense, used wooden boards to erect a cross. The defendants then planted the cross near the home of the African-American man and lit it on fire. Witnesses testified that as a result of the cross burning, the African-American victim and the family he lived with all moved from their home because they were too frightened to remain in the town.

“Few symbols of racial hatred are as grotesque as a cross burning,” said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “People have the right to live where they choose, free from such threats based on bigotry. The Department of Justice will continue to vigorously prosecute such offensive and criminal conduct.”

The case was investigated by Special Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case was prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Christine Dunn and John Richmond of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.

Prosecuting the perpetrators of bias-motivated crimes is a top priority of the Justice Department. Since 2001, the Civil Rights Division has charged 161 defendants in 102 cases of bias-motivated crimes.