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Alabama man pleads guilty in cross-burning incident in black area

An Alabama man has pleaded guilty to burning a cross at the entrance of an African American neighborhood in Ozark, about 80 miles southeast of Montgomery, federal officials announced Monday.

Thomas Windell Smith, 24, of Dothan, pleaded guilty on Friday to a single count of conspiring to violate housing rights, the Justice Department announced. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. No sentencing date has been set.

According to the Justice Department, the charge against Smith relates to his participation in a cross burning at the entrance to an African American community on May 8, 2009, with a former Ku Klux Klan leader who was arrested and charged with a five-count indictment last month.

During his plea, Smith admitted that he and a co-conspirator agreed to burn a cross to intimidate the African American residents, the Justice Department said. The cross was made of wood and was about 6 feet tall.

 “The defendant’s crime illustrates the damage hate crimes can do to entire communities, making people feel unsafe in their own homes,” Acting Assistant Atty. Gen. Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “We’d like to think these offenses are a thing of the past, but the reality is that they happen here in the 21st century. The Justice Department is committed to stamping them out.”

Steven Joshua Dinkle, 28, was indicted Nov. 27 on charges of conspiring to violate housing rights, criminally interfering with housing rights, using a fire to commit a felony and obstruction of justice, according to officials.

Prosecutors said Dinkle is the former exalted Cyclops of a Ku Klux Klan chapter in Ozark.

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