A 24-year-old man pleaded guilty Friday in federal court in Montgomery, Ala. to participating in a 2009 cross burning with a former member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Thomas Windell Smith of Dothan, Ala. was charged with one count of conspiring “to injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate African American persons in Alabama” to prevent them from enjoying “the right to occupy a dwelling free from intimidation and interference based on race,” according to court documents.
“This defendant not only committed a federal crime, but committed a contemptible action of hate,” U.S. Attorney George L. Beck Jr. said in a written statement Monday accompanying an announcement of the plea. “I hope this prosecution sends a clear message that these hateful demonstrations will not be tolerated and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Prosecutors said that on May 8, 2009, Smith and Steven Joshua Dinkle, a “former Exalted Cyclops” of the Ku Klux Klan, burned a cross outside of a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Ozark, Ala.
Dinkle was arrested on Nov. 27 for his alleged role in the cross burning and for allegedly attempting to obstruct the investigation. Last month, Dinkle’s mother, who prosecutors described as “the former secretary of the KKK chapter” in Ozark was also arrested and charged with committing perjury before the grand jury investigating the cross burning.
Smith faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Prosecutors said Dinkle built the cross, “encouraged” Smith to join him, and lit the cross on fire. Smith allegedly drove himself and Dinkle to the scene with the cross in his truck.
Photo shows a 1995 cross burning in Michigan.