Saturday, July 17, 2004

2 charged in cross burning

Cops: 20 tipsters called after suspects bragged

By Jim Hannah
Enquirer staff writer

BURLINGTON - Two Northern Kentucky men face 10 years in a federal prison if found guilty in a cross burning in a black family's yard.

"Cross burning is totally unacceptable in a modern society," said Boone County Sheriff Mike Helmig, whose department joined the FBI on the case. "It brings back ugly ghosts of our history."

Helmig said the suspects bragged to acquaintances after the victims moved out of the county. Some of those acquaintances, he said, were among about 20 tipsters who called authorities.

Matthew T. Scudder, 18, 2157 Petersburg Road in Hebron, and Jimmy D. Foster, 19, 11511 Madison Pike in Independence, were each charged Friday with conspiracy to violate civil rights.

Boone County Commonwealth's Attorney Linda Tally Smith said the main reason the case was being prosecuted in federal court was Kentucky's weak hate-crime laws.

She said Scudder and Foster likely would have faced only misdemeanor charges of criminal trespassing and criminal mischief in state court. The maximum sentence for a misdemeanor is one year in jail.

"This crime could prompt legislation in the next session to fill this hole in Kentucky's statutes," said Smith, who is president-elect of the association of commonwealth's attorneys and a member of the prosecutors advisory council to Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

Scudder is in federal custody pending a hearing at 11 a.m. Monday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gregory Wehrman in Covington. A summons was issued for Foster to appear in federal court at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

Authorities didn't say why he wasn't taken into custody.

"We anticipate more charges, possibly against more people," Helmig said, adding that a juvenile thought to have participated in the cross burning had not been charged.

Helmig said nothing similar has occurred during his 21-year career in Boone County.

Federal authorities say Scudder, Foster and a juvenile built a 3-foot cross and set it on fire in the yard of Fred Mahone's Rosetta Drive home July 2. The next night, the three tossed bricks through the windows of Mahone's family car while yelling racial epithets, authorities said

Mahone filed two separate police reports and quickly moved out of the rental home. He couldn't be reached for comment after the arrests.

Banks lauded neighbors for helping in the case.

"I don't want people to think we live in a racist neighborhood," said Chris Kerns, 36, of the 6500 block of Rosetta Drive.


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