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Four Ku Klux Klan Members Indicted In Cross Burning

June 30, 1992 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A federal grand jury has indicted four members of the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama on charges of burning a cross to threaten a black family who recently moved into an all-white neighborhood, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.

Three other Klansmen pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court in Birmingham for conspiring to carry out the March 1991 cross-burning, the government said.

This is the second federal indictment of Klan members for cross-burning in two weeks. Last week, two Klansmen were indicted and one pleaded guilty in a series of Georgia cross-burnings aimed at white women who associated with black men.

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Justice officials have been eager to underline their belief, shared by legal experts, that federal criminal civil rights laws can still be used to prosecute cross-burnings despite a Supreme Court ruling last week striking down a St. Paul, Minn., ″hate-crime″ law used against cross-burning.

The 1989 St. Paul law made it a misdemeanor to engage in bias-motivated disorderly conduct by speech or action, but the court said the statute unconstitutionally targeted free speech.

The federal criminal civil rights laws used to prosecute cross-burnings target actions which are intended to intimidate and constitute a threat of force, officials and experts have said.

″The Department of Justice will not tolerate threats against black citizens and will continue to prosecute cross-burnings to the fullest extent of the law,″ said Assistant Attorney General John R. Dunne, head of the civil rights division.

The four-count indictment returned last week and unsealed in Birmingham on Tuesday also charged that shots were fired from a gun during the incident. There were no injuries.

The grand jury charged Stevie Hugh Stone, Christopher Liff Daniel, Clarence Whitlock Jr. and Dennis Scott Stewart. The panel identified them as members of the Alabama Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and said they burned a cross in Albertville, Ala., to try to force the black family to move.

They were charged with one count of conspiring to deprive the black family of the right to live in its home without intimidation because of race. The four also were charged with interfering with the family’s housing rights in violation of the Fair Housing Act and with using fire in the commission of a federal felony.

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Stone and Whitlock were charged with using or carrying a firearm during a crime of violence.

If convicted on all counts, Stone and Whitlock face up to 21 years in prison and $850,000 in fines. Daniel and Stewart face up to 16 years in prison and $600,000 in fines.

The department said that Marion Gibson, Thomas Murphree and James Paul Warren pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy.