Two plead guilty to branding of disabled Navajo man

Santa Fe, New Mexico Thu Aug 18, 2011 5:16pm EDT

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Santa Fe, New Mexico (Reuters) - Two men pleaded guilty on Thursday to a racially motivated attack on a developmentally disabled Navajo Indian man in which they branded him with a swastika, the U.S. Justice Department said.

A third assailant had already pleaded guilty in June to conspiracy charges related to torturing the 22-year-old man in New Mexico in 2010. The victim's name was not released.

"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. Attorney for the District of New Mexico Kenneth J. Gonzales said.

"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."

The three men - Paul Beebe and Jesse Sanford of Farmington, N.M., and William Hatch of Fruitland, N.M., - are the first defendants to be charged under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009.

Beebe pleaded guilty to violating the hate crimes act, while Sanford pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate it. Hatch had pleaded guilty in June to the conspiracy charge. There was no immediate word on when the men would be sentenced.

The defendants in this case admitted covering the victim's body with white supremacist and anti-Native American symbols, including shaving a swastika in the back of his head and using markers to write the words "KKK" and "White Power" on his skin, a Justice Department statement said.

Department officials said that during the plea hearing, Beebe and Sanford admitted that Beebe had taken the man to his apartment, which was full of racist paraphernalia.

After the man fell asleep, the trio drew on his body with blue, red and black markers. When he woke up, Beebe branded him with a swastika using a heated wire hanger as the man sat with a towel shoved in his mouth, officials said.

"The defendants further mocked the victim's heritage" by drawing obscene pictures on his back and telling him that they were his "native pride feathers," the statement said.

The men, who recorded the entire incident on cell phones including a recording of them coercing the man into saying he wanted to be branded, were indicted in November 2010 on charges of conspiracy and violating the hate-crime statute.

The statute is named after Shepard, a young gay man murdered in 1998 in Wyoming and Byrd, an African-American man who was decapitated in Texas in 1998 after he was dragged behind a truck by two white supremacists.

"Deplorable, hate-filled incidents like this one have no place in a civilized society," Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas Perez said.

"The Justice Department is committed to using all the tools in our law enforcement arsenal, including the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, to prosecute acts of hate."

(Edited by Karen Brooks and Cynthia Johnston)

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