Three Plead Guilty to Civil Rights Conspiracy in Connection with Cross Burning in Athens, Louisiana
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced that U.S. District Judge Donald E. Walter accepted the guilty plea of Jeremy Matthew Moro, 33, for conspiring to burn a cross near the home of an interracial couple in Athens, La., in October 2008. Earlier this week, Judge Walter accepted the guilty plea of Joshua James Moro, 25, on the same charge.
Another defendant, Sonya Marie Hart, 31, pleaded guilty on Jan. 31, 2011, to misprision of a felony because she withheld information from the FBI regarding the defendants’ attempt to cover up the cross burning. The Moros’ cousin, Daniel Danforth, was previously convicted by a federal jury for organizing, carrying out and attempting to cover up the same cross burning.
During their pleas, entered before Magistrate Judge Mark L. Hornsby on Jan. 21, and Jan. 26, 2011, Joshua and Jeremy Moro admitted that in October 2008, they agreed with their cousin, Daniel Danforth, to build, erect and burn a cross near the home of another cousin, her African-American boyfriend (now husband), her 11-year-old son and their grandmother who was believed to approve of the cousin’s interracial relationship. Joshua Moro admitted that he offered Danforth diesel fuel to use to burn the cross, and that later that evening he sent a text message to see if Danforth and Jeremy Moro still needed the diesel to burn the cross. Jeremy Moro admitted that he helped Danforth find an accelerant, transport the cross to an area near the victims’ homes, and watched Danforth light the cross on fire because Danforth was upset about the presence of the African-American man living with their cousin. During her plea, on Jan. 31, 2011, Hart admitted that she affirmatively withheld information from the FBI in connection with the investigation into the cross burning and attempted cover-up.
Evidence during Danforth’s trial in January 2010, showed that in the days following the cross burning, Danforth, Jeremy Moro and Hart agreed to remove the burned cross when they learned that the FBI was going to investigate the matter. With Jeremy Moro’s and Hart’s assistance, Danforth removed the cross, disassembled it and hid it in the woods. The evidence also showed that Josh Moro, Jeremy Moro and Hart lied to the FBI and a federal grand jury during the investigation into the cross burning.
“Driven by bigotry and hate, the defendants threatened a member of their own family with violence simply because she associated with persons of another race,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Incidents of this kind have no place in this country, and they are a reminder of the civil rights challenges we still face.”
“Cross burning, unfortunately, remains a terrible symbol of hatred and intolerance. Every citizen has a right to feel safe and secure in their homes and neighborhoods. Intimidation of citizens in this district will not be tolerated. This office will continue to prosecute individuals who participate or facilitate crimes which violate the civil rights laws,” said U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana Stephanie Finley.
“All families in America have the right to live where they chose, undisturbed by racial intolerance, racist threats and intimidation. These guilty pleas send a clear message of the FBI’s commitment to aggressively investigate this type of criminal conduct,” said David W. Welker, Special Agent in Charge of the New Orleans Division of the FBI.
Sentencing for Joshua Moro, Jeremy Moro and Hart has been set for April 28, 2011. Joshua and Jeremy Moro each face a maximum punishment of 10 years for conspiring to interfere with another person’s civil rights. Hart faces a maximum punishment of three years for affirmatively withholding information from the FBI regarding the defendants’ attempt to cover up the cross burning. Danforth was sentenced in May 2010 to 48 months in prison for his role in the cross burning and attempted cover-up.
This case was investigated by the FBI. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary J. Mudrick for the Western District of Louisiana and Trial Attorney Erin Aslan from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.