GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — A white South Carolina man who pleaded guilty to trying to hire a hit man from the Ku Klux Klan to kill a black neighbor has been sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.
U.S. District Judge Bruce Howe Hendricks sentenced 26-year-old Brandon Lecroy on Thursday, The State reported. Hendricks ruled that Lecroy’s offense qualified as a hate crime, but noted that the plan to have someone else killed was so serious she would have given him 10 years even if race wasn’t a factor. Ten years is the maximum sentence for the offense.
“It’s one thing to think these thoughts, but it’s a crime to undertake to do harm to another,” Hendricks said.
Hendricks’ ruling came after a spirited argument by Lecroy’s attorney, federal public defender Erica Soderdahl, who said race didn’t play a role. She said Lecroy was trying to get rid of an extremely troublesome neighbor who happened to be African American.
The neighbor, identified only by the initials “F.J.,” kept coming onto Lecroy’s property, trying to start fights, and asking for food and to use the phone, Soderdahl said. Lecroy had repeatedly tried to get local police to keep the neighbor from trespassing, to no avail, she said.
“But F.J. kept coming back,” Soderdahl said. “It’s not about an overriding feeling toward a race — it’s about one individual.”
Finally, in desperation after police wouldn’t act, Lecroy went on the internet and found a western South Carolina area code for a local Ku Klux Klan chapter, she said.
“Brandon called the KKK because who else was he going to call?” Soderdahl said. “It had nothing to do with the color of his skin.”
She also told the judge that Lecroy had been bullied and beaten by his father from the time he was a child and the trauma left him with the psyche of a 6-year-old. She said her client can’t hold a job, receives disability checks, and loves to talk about childish things. She said Lecroy learned the racist language as a child from his father and uncle.
But federal prosecutor William Watkins told the judge that race had everything to do with the attempted hit.
“Your honor, the fact that he reached out to the KKK — this is not a low-functioning individual,” said Watkins, an assistant U.S. Attorney. “It’s telling that to get a black person eliminated, he turned to the KKK.”
Lecroy can be heard using racist language and making references to historically violent KKK symbols in secret audio recordings that law enforcement officials made, Watkins said. He said Lecroy also suggested to the undercover agent posing as the KKK hit man that he could use a flaming cross.
“He doesn’t call a biker gang,” Watkins told the judge. “What he had in mind for his neighbor was very race specific. ... He targeted him because of his race.”
Lecroy pleaded guilty last fall to being part of a murder-for-hire plot. He was dressed in an oversized orange jail jump suit in court Thursday.
Soderdahl said Lecroy was too nervous to speak, but he wanted the judge and everyone to know he regretted his actions and apologized for them.
This story has been edited to clarify that Lecroy pleaded guilty. Bruce Howe Hendricks is a woman; references to judge as ‘she’ are correct.
Information from: The State, http://www.thestate.com