Graham Williamson, 38, was sentenced to three years in prison this past Tuesday after he burned a cross next to the home of a Black boy in Mississippi, according to a Newsweek. The cross-burning, which occurred in October 2017, was supposed to frighten residents of the predominantly Black neighborhood named Keys Hill.
Williamson pleaded guilty to violating federal housing rights protections and arson for the commission of a felony. Prosecutors presented a sealed recommendation on Williamson’s behalf to the judge in the case. It was in the place of a guilty plea. The judge sentenced him to three years on November 5 instead of the maximum sentence of 30 years Williamson initially faced.
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Louie Bernard Revette, who was also involved and is Williamson’s former boss, pleaded guilty and was sentenced almost quadruple the years Williamson received.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Candace Mayberry disclosed during Williamson’s plea hearing that Revette had an arsenal of explosive devices ranging from firecrackers, propane and grenades inside of his home.
On that fateful night in October, Williamson and Revette built a wooden cross, doused it in gasoline and set it ablaze along Highway 535. The Department of Justice (DOJ) determined that the cross was burned to “threaten, frighten and intimidate” Black residents in the community. Cross-burning has been used as an intimidation tactic throughout American history to terrorize Black people.
In a dramatic turn of events, Williamson contended that he merely burned the cross to save the lives of the boy and his family because Revette intended to burn the house down completely.
“When I went over to my boss’s house, he was planning on blowing the house up. I talked him down to just burning a cross in the yard. I felt like it was the right thing to do by burning the cross versus letting him blow the house up,” Williamson said. “I felt like it was the right thing to do.”
He also had the option to call the police and report Revette but failed to mention that.
In a press release from the DOJ, Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband blasted Williamson’s reason.
“Hate crimes like this contravene our society’s well-established principles of equality and freedom from race-based intimidation, and the Department of Justice will continue to pursue and prosecute such crimes to the fullest extent of the law.”