Two Brandon, Mississippi Men Plead Guilty to Committing Hate Crimes Against African-Americans in Jackson, Mississippi
WASHINGTON—Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis for the Southern District of Mississippi announced that John Louis Blalack, 20, and Robert Henry Rice, 24, both from Brandon, Mississippi, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Jackson to federal hate crime charges in connection with their roles in a series of assaults on African Americans in Jackson, Mississippi. Blalack and Rice are the ninth and 10th individuals associated with a group of people who conspired to target and assault African Americans based on their race in the spring of 2011.
“Justice has been served,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “The hate crimes to which these defendants have pleaded guilty were as shocking as they were reprehensible—targeting innocent people for racially-motivated acts of violence that inflicted grievous harm and even claimed a life. The Justice Department will never rest in our pursuit of those who victimize their fellow citizens. This landmark case should send a clear message: that anyone who commits an act of bias-motivated violence, or who violates the civil rights to which all Americans are entitled, will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
Prior to today’s guilty pleas, Deryl Paul Dedmon, 22; John Aaron Rice, 21; Dylan Wade Butler, 23; Jonathan Kyle Gaskamp, 22; and Joseph Paul Dominick, 23, all from Brandon, Mississippi, and William Kirk Montgomery, 25, from Puckett, Mississippi, Shelbie Brooke Richards, 21, from Pearl, Mississippi, and Sarah Adelia Graves, 21, from Crystal Springs, Mississippi, pleaded guilty in connection with their roles in these offenses. The conspiracy culminated in the death of James Craig Anderson, who was assaulted and killed on June 26, 2011.
Blalack pleaded guilty to two counts of violating the Matthew Shepard – James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Rice pleaded guilty to one count of violating the same act. The statutory maximum sentence for these violations is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing for Blalack is set for April 23, 2015, and sentencing for Rice is set for April 30, 2015.
The federal investigation revealed that beginning in the spring of 2011, Blalack, Robert Rice and others conspired with one another to harass and assault African-American people in and around Jackson. On numerous occasions the co-conspirators used dangerous weapons, including beer bottles, sling shots and motor vehicles, to cause, and attempt to cause, bodily injury to African-American people. They would specifically target African Americans they believed to be homeless or under the influence of alcohol because they believed that such individuals would be less likely to report an assault. The co-conspirators would often boast about these racially motivated assaults.
On June 25, 2011, Blalack and others attended a birthday party/bonfire for a mutual friend in Puckett, Mississippi. During the party, Blalack and others talked about going to Jackson to harass and assault African-American people. By the early morning hours of June 26, 2011, Blalack, Montgomery, Dedmon, John Aaron Rice, Butler, Richards and Graves agreed to carry out their plan to find, harass and assault African-American people. Robert Rice did not go to Jackson on June 26, 2011.
At around 4:15 a.m., Blalack, Montgomery, John Aaron Rice, and Butler drove to Jackson in Montgomery’s white Jeep with the understanding that Dedmon, Richards and Graves would join them a short time later. Blalack and the other three occupants of the Jeep then drove around Jackson and threw beer bottles from the moving vehicle at African-American pedestrians they encountered. At approximately 5:00 a.m., Blalack and the other three occupants of the Jeep spotted Anderson in a motel parking lot off of Ellis Avenue. The occupants of the Jeep decided that Anderson would be a good target for an assault because he was African-American and appeared to be visibly intoxicated. Blalack and John Aaron Rice decided to get out of the Jeep to distract Anderson while they waited for Dedmon, Richards and Graves to arrive.
After Dedmon Richards, and Graves arrived in Dedmon’s Ford F250 truck, Dedmon and John Aaron Rice physically assaulted Anderson. Rice first punched Anderson in the face with sufficient force to knock Anderson to the ground, and then Dedmon punched Anderson in the face multiple times while he was on the ground. After the assault, Blalack, Montgomery, Rice and Butler left the motel parking lot in the Jeep. As they left, one of the occupants of the Jeep yelled, “White Power!” Prior to getting back into his truck, Dedmon responded by also yelling “White Power!”
Once back in his Ford F250 truck, Dedmon deliberately used his vehicle to run over Anderson, causing injuries which resulted in his death. Blalack’s guilty plea includes his role in this offense.
On a previous occasion, Blalack, Montgomery, Butler and Dominick drove around west Jackson to find and assault African Americans. Blalack and the other occupants of the vehicle purchased bottles of beer to drink and then threw the beer bottles at African Americans. The occupants of the vehicle also purchased a sling-shot. Some of the occupants of the vehicle, including Blalack, threw beer bottles and shot metal ball bearings out of the moving vehicle at African American pedestrians. Blalack pleaded guilty for his role in this offense.
Another previous occasion involved a racially motivated assault at or near a golf course in Jackson. On this particular evening, Robert Rice, Blalack, Montgomery, Gaskamp, Dedmon and John Aaron Rice were in a vehicle, searching for, and eventually finding, a vulnerable African-American man to assault. The vehicle was stopped so Dedmon, John Aaron Rice and Gaskamp could chase the victim down. The three men beat the man to the point that he begged for his life. Robert Rice’s guilty plea includes his role in this offense.
“Today’s guilty pleas are the culmination of an extensive federal investigation into this violent hate crime conspiracy,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Gupta. “Ten defendants have now pleaded guilty to crimes associated with this conspiracy. We hope that today’s guilty pleas provide closure to the victim’s family and to the community that has mourned Mr. Anderson’s tragic death and been shocked by the scope of the conspiracy to commit racially motivated assaults in Jackson by a group of ten co-conspirators.”
“There can be no tolerance for acts of gratuitous violence targeting innocent persons simply because of their race,” said U.S. Attorney Davis. “This case is a testament to the United States Attorney’s Office’s dedication to vigorously investigate and prosecute violations of federal hate crime laws. I commend not only Mr. Anderson’s family for their continued cooperation throughout this investigation, but our law enforcement partners, including the FBI and Jackson Police Department, who worked tirelessly in this case to ensure our hate crime laws are strictly enforced.”
“With today’s guilty pleas, the FBI and its law enforcement partners have identified and brought to justice all those individuals who conspired to deprive Mr. Anderson and other citizens of their civil rights simply because of the color of their skin,” said Special Agent in Charge Donald Alway for the FBI in Mississippi. “The FBI remains dedicated to protecting the cherished freedoms of all Americans, including aggressively investigating allegations of hate crimes and working to prevent them.”
These guilty pleas were the result of a cooperative effort between the Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi and the Hinds County District Attorney’s office. This case was investigated by the FBI’s Jackson Division and the Jackson Police Department. It is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Sheldon L. Beer and Deputy Chief Paige M. Fitzgerald of the Civil Rights Division, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenda R. Haynes of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi.