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Former white supremacist convicted in 1997 slaying of black man

Former white supremacist convicted of murder for beating, stabbing black man in 1997

A former white supremacist was convicted of murder Thursday in the beating and stabbing death of a black man in the Antelope Valley desert. 

A Los Angeles jury deliberated for five hours before finding Richard Phillip Ritchie, 39, guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

The jury also found that Ritchie killed Howard Garfield McClendon, 32, because of his race.

According to prosecutors, Ritchie and Kelly Sorrell, 37, drove around in July 1997, searching for a black person to kill so that Sorrell could get a “lightning bolt” tattoo -- a symbol among white supremacists for slaying an African American.

Ritchie and Sorrell lured McClendon into their car and drove down a dirt road, then beat him with a baseball bat, prosecutors said.

They later stabbed McClendon almost to the point of decapitating him, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Geoffrey Lewin, who prosecuted the case.

McClendon’s skeletal remains were found Oct. 22, 1997, but the case was unsolved until a tip in 2003 led Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department investigators to Ritchie and Sorrell.

Sorrell pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and is scheduled to be sentenced Friday. She faces up to 29 years to life in prison.

Ritchie, who said at the trial that he's no longer a white supremacist, faces life without the possibility of parole. He is scheduled to be sentenced in February.

He is already serving 38 years in prison for a 2001 conviction for robbery, false imprisonment and grand theft auto. In 1996, he was convicted of arson for cross burning.

A third person -- Ritchie’s brother Justin, 34 -- was arrested and tried in connection with McClendon's death. He was acquitted in 2009.

For breaking news in California, follow @MattHjourno. He can be reached at matt.hamilton@latimes.com.

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