Two plead guilty to hate-crime charges in swastika branding

Two men have pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes for a racially motivated assault in New Mexico that included branding a developmentally disabled man of Navajo descent with a swastika, the Justice Department has announced.

Paul Beebe Paul Beebe and Jesse Sanford of Farmington, N.M., entered their guilty pleas Thursday. A third defendant, William Hatch of Fruitland, N.M., pleaded guilty in June to conspiracy to commit a federal hate crime stemming from the same incident.

The three men were indicted by a federal grand jury in November 2010 on one count of conspiracy and one count of violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. They were the first to be charged under the October 2009 law that expanded the reach of federal anti-hate measures.

"No one anywhere, but especially in a state like New Mexico that prides itself on its ethnic, racial and cultural diversity, should be victimized because of what he or she happens to be," U.S. Atty. Kenneth J. Gonzales said in a statement. "The young victim in this case was assaulted, branded and scarred because he happens to be a Native American –- that simply is inexcusable and criminal. Today's guilty pleas demonstrate the law enforcement community's resolve to bring to justice anyone who victimizes a person because of the color of their skin or ethnic heritage."

During Thursday's hearing, according to a statement released by the Justice Department, Beebe, 27, and Sanford, 25, said that the victim was taken to Beebe's apartment, which had racist paraphernalia, including a Nazi flag.

After the victim fell asleep, the defendants "began defacing the victim’s body by drawing on him with blue, red and black markers. Once the victim awoke, Beebe branded the victim, who sat with a towel in his mouth, by heating a wire hanger on a stove and burning the victim’s flesh, causing a permanent deep impression of a swastika in his skin," according to the Justice Department.

Beebe pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Shepard/Byrd Act, and Sanford pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit a violation of the act. Beebe has agreed to 102 months in federal prison, and Sanford and Hatch face up to five years when they are sentenced, a spokeswoman for Gonzales said in a telephone interview.

All are in custody. Beebe and Sanford have been sentenced to up to 8 1/2 years on state charges.

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-- Michael Muskal

Photo: Paul Beebe, one of three men who have pleaded guilty in the incident. Credit: Associated Press

 
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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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