Virginia man pleads guilty in connection with cross-burning

ABINGDON, Va. (AP) — A southwest Virginia man pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal offense in connection with the burning of a cross last summer on the front lawn of a Black teenager who had recently organized a civil rights protest.

James Brown, 41, of Marion will remain free on bond until his sentencing in August on one count of criminal interference with federally protected housing rights based upon the victim’s race, according to court records.

Federal prosecutors said Brown admitted to burning the cross to two witnesses and also was known to use racial epithets when referring to the African-American family, who court documents describe as his neighbors.

“Acts of hatred, intimidation and the threat of force, carried out by the racially motivated cross burning in this case, illegally interfered with their federally protected housing rights,” Daniel Bubar, acting U.S. attorney for the western district of Virginia, said in a statement. “This illegal, divisive behavior destroys communities and will not be tolerated.”

According to an affidavit filed by an FBI special agent, the teen’s mother flagged down a police officer in June 2020 and told him someone had put a burning cross in her yard. The woman’s son was an organizer of a protest the day before in Marion, a small town not far from where Virginia meets Tennessee and North Carolina.

A police officer extinguished a “significant” fire inside a barrel and recovered a wooden cross, according to the affidavit.

According to the plea agreement, the maximum penalty Brown faces is 10 years in prison, a possible fine of $250,000 and a term of supervised release.

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