Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Cross-burning teen gets 21 months

Judge: 'We have to be beyond this'

By Jim Hannah
Enquirer staff writer

COVINGTON - A federal judge sentenced a Northern Kentucky juvenile to 21 months for instigating a cross burning on a black family's lawn this summer.

"You were watching racist material," said U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman on Monday. "You got these other guys together. Despite the fact that you're the juvenile, you seem to have been the ringleader."

Bertelsman could have sentenced the teen to as little as 15 months, but handed down the maximum sentence for the civil rights violations- saying he was "sending a message."

Bertelsman ordered the U.S. Attorney's Office to release the outcome of the sealed case after the Enquirer argued that the public's right to know, in this case, outweighed the privacy afforded to juveniles.

The judge, during sentencing, told the teen that cross burnings are a form of terrorism that carry terrible symbolism for African-Americans. Bertelsman said the victims feared for their safety and might have thought the Ku Klux Klan organized the hate crime. Investigators have found no evidence of that.

"Slavery ended 150 years ago," Bertelsman said. "We should be beyond this. We have to be beyond this."

The teen's sentence will be followed by one year of supervision. The teen must also pay $2,774 in restitution.

Bertelsman would not say where the juvenile would be sent to serve his sentence.

The boy was the third person prosecuted in the cross burning.

On Dec. 16, Bertelsman will sentence Matthew Scudder, 18, of Hebron and Jimmy Foster, 19, of Independence, for their roles in the hate crime. Under federal sentencing guidelines, Scudder could serve 15 to 21 months and Foster could serve eight to 14 months. Both pleaded guilty.

The hate crime was described in court papers filed in the adults' cases. The juvenile viewed racist material on the Internet before helping others build a 3-foot cross and burn it on the front lawn of Fred Mahone's Burlington home. The next day, the juvenile and others donned white hoods and yelled racial slurs as they threw rocks at Mahone's car.

Mahone, who couldn't be reached Monday, has said he feared for his family's safety and moved from the county just days after the harassment.

Attorney Davis Fessler of Fort Thomas, who represented the teen, couldn't be reached for comment.

Gregory Van Tatenhove, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky, prosecuted the juvenile in federal court because of Kentucky's weak hate crime law and the gravity of the crime.


E-mail jhannah@enquirer.com

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