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Cross burners plead guilty to hate crime

July 19, 2011 at 1:05 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, July 19 (UPI) -- Two Arkansas men pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes for burning a cross in front of an African-American man's apartment, the U.S. Justice Department said.

Tony Branscum, 25, and James Bradley "Brad" Branscum, 23, of Salado, Ark., pleaded guilty in court Monday to violating housing rights in relation to their participation in the Aug. 28 cross burning, the Justice Department said in a release.

The two men -- who are cousins -- and co-defendant Curtis Coffee were indicted in November on civil rights charges and other related federal charges concerning their roles in the cross burning.

Both men confessed that on the night of Aug. 28 they, along with Coffee, 19, also of Salado, came up with the plot to burn the cross in the yard of an African-American in Salado.

The release says Tony Branscum built the cross, and the three covered it in gasoline-soaked clothing and drove it to the victim's apartment building. There, one of the men propped the cross against a satellite dish and ignited it.

"Interfering with a person's housing rights because of his race will not be tolerated in our country," said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the department's Civil Rights Division. "The Justice Department will vigorously prosecute individuals that violate the rights of others because of race."

The Branscums face as much as 10 years in prison and $250,000 fines.

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