Justice Department investigates 26 cross-burnings nationwide in 1996, defendants face jail, fines 

Since January 1996, the U.S. Department of Justice has investigated 26 cases of cross-burning. Despite decreased activities by racist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, cross-burnings continue to take place throughout the United States. Four recent cases handled by the Justice Department illustrate this alarming trend.

In September, James Mayberry, a 25-year-old Illinois man, pled guilty to charges of violating federal criminal civil rights laws. In 1993, Mayberry constructed an eight foot by four foot wooden cross and brought it to a racially mixed apartment c omplex in Belleville, Illinois, about 20 miles outside of East St. Louis. He leaned the cross against a utility pole, doused it with alcohol and set it ablaze. Mayberry then threw a brick at the complex. He faces up to 11 years in prison and a $350,000 fine.

W. Charles Grace, the U.S. Attorney in Fairview Heights, said that civil rights cases like this one are "priority prosecution cases and this office will take every necessary step to prevent racial violence."

In October, two Ohio men pled guilty in another cross-burning case. Aaron Hunt and Joshua Rand, both age 19 and from Mansfield, Ohio, admitted to burning a cross near a Black family's home.

Before dawn on August 28, 1996, Hunt and Rand built an eight foot tall wooden cross. They drove it to the farm owned by James and Joanne Beverly and their two daughters. Hunt and Rand propped the cross up on the road facing the Beverly home and set it on fire. As they fled the scene, they sounded the van's horn so that the family would wake up and see the burning cross.

Both Hunt and Rand pled guilty to the civil rights charges. Each man faces up to a ten-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine.

One day after Hunt and Rand pled guilty in Ohio, another man, 18-year-old Benjamin Newton of Augusta, Maine, admitted guilt in a similar crime. Newton burned a cross in an Augusta neighborhood where multi-racial families reside. Newton's accompl ice, Vincent Hallowell, pled guilty to civil rights violations in September and is awaiting sentencing.

In June, Newton and Hallowell discussed trying to find a Black person that they could tar and feather. They decided that it would be easier to burn a cross in Augusta's Sand Hill neighborhood, a predominately white neighborhood with a few Black f amilies. Newton and Hallowell carried a cross to Sand Hill, drove it into the ground, doused it with a flammable solvent, and then lit it on fire.

After lighting the cross, Hallowell screamed, "I'm purifying the streets!" The two then fled the scene. Newton carried a hammer and the solvent back to Hallowell's apartment where police later found them. He faces up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Jay McCloskey, U.S. Attorney in Portland commented on the case by saying, "As I have repeatedly stated, deprivation of civil rights is an extremely serious crime that will not be tolerated."

In late October, two weeks after the cases were decided in Maine and Ohio, four North Carolina men were charged with burning two crosses on the lawn of a racially mixed couple near Waynesville, North Carolina.

The four men, Leonard Haynes, Martin King, Alfred Smith, and Eugene Smith, were indicted on three counts of civil rights violations after an intensive investigation by the Asheville office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). According t o the indictment, the four men conspired to burn a cross in front of a trailer because it was occupied by Gordon Cullins and Hazel Sutton, an interracial couple.