Update (September 11, 2019): Louie Bernard Revette has been given an 11-year sentence for burning a cross in a Black family’s yard two years ago in Seminary, Mississippi.
The 38-year-old pleaded guilty in April to interfering with housing rights and one count of using fire to commit a federal felony.
His co-conspirator, Graham Williamson, also pleaded guilty to the same charges. Both men admitted to prosecutors the cross-burning was intended to “threaten, frighten and intimidate" the Black family.
“The defendant terrorized members of a community simply because of their race and where they lived,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will not tolerate these acts of hate, and we will continue to prosecute hate crimes like these to the fullest extent of the law.”
The Department of Justice statement noted the two men specifically chose the home of a Black child intending to scare the family away from the neighborhood.
“All Mississippians have the right to feel safe in their communities, but crimes like these only tear open wounds that are still healing,” said Michelle Sutphin, a special agent in charge of the FBI in Mississippi. “The FBI and our partners will not tolerate crimes motivated by hate, and we will vigorously pursue those that commit them.”
Prosecutors were unhappy with the sentence and wanted it to be closer to the maximum of 30 years.
Both men repeatedly said in court and in interviews with police they were motivated by racial hatred and a desire to force out local Black residents.
Yet the Hattiesburg American reported on Tuesday that U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett told the court he did not think the crime was racially motivated. He did not explain what he meant by this but gave Williamson a relatively lenient sentence.
“Those who instill fear and terror into our neighbors and our fellow citizens because of the color of their skin will face the full weight and force of the law from the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” said U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst of the Southern District of Mississippi. “There is absolutely no place in our society or our country for this type of behavior, and we will do all that we can to prevent these racist acts and bring to justice those who are intent on committing these crimes.”
Despite the tough words from the Justice Department and FBI, the grandmother of the child targeted in the racial attack, Rose Marie Shears, said she was disappointed that the court would let the men off so easy. She said she was worried they would come back and terrorize her family.
“I thought that 'those days' were over," Shears told Julia Gegenheimer.
Original: A Mississippi man admitted on Monday that he used a burning cross to "threaten, frighten, and intimidate" a Black family in the town of Seminary in 2017.
Graham Williamson pleaded guilty to one count of interference with housing rights and one count of conspiring to use fire to commit a federal felony, according to the Justice Department.
“The defendant used a violent symbol of racial intimidation to threaten these victims and inspire fear, while they resided in the security of their own homes,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said in a statement.
“The Department of Justice does not tolerate these hateful and historically egregious acts, and will continue to vigorously prosecute criminals who violate the civil rights of peaceful community members,” Dreiband added.
He faces up to 30 years in prison when his sentencing hearing takes place on November 5.
The 38-year-old told federal prosecutors that he and another man, Louis Bernard Revette, built a large wooden cross and placed it in a Black neighborhood in October 2017. They specifically chose to put it near the house of a child, identified as M.H. by the Justice Department, and set it on fire.
Williamson was open about his intentions with the cross burning and said he understood the historical implications behind it. His goal, according to prosecutors, was to scare Black residents away from the Keys Hill area of Seminary.
“Crimes motivated by hate are intended to intimidate their victims and spread fear in the community, undermining societal values,” said FBI Agent in Charge Michelle Sutphin. “The FBI will continue its aggressive investigations of acts like these in pursuit of justice for the victims and the integrity of civil rights for all.”
Revette pleaded guilty in April to the same charges and will be sentenced on August 20.
“While wounds are still healing from Mississippi’s past, incidents such as this only serve as setbacks and should be fully condemned in every community,” Mississippi FBI Officer Christopher Freeze said.