Indiana Co. man gets 18 months for cross burning
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Even if you're not a racist, you can't go burning crosses.
That is the message U.S. District Judge Alan N. Bloch sent Thursday when he sentenced Kenneth Paul Stiffey Jr., 21, of Robinson, Indiana County, to 18 months in prison for his role in a 2009 cross burning. Mr. Stiffey's bid to get off with probation was based in large measure on testimonials from his girlfriend and his brother's boyfriend, both of whom are biracial.
The judge wasn't swayed.
"When a cross burning is used to intimidate, few if any messages are so powerful," said Judge Bloch, adding that Mr. Stiffey had a juvenile record of violence.
Mr. Stiffey played a supporting role in the Nov. 14, 2009, cross burning in Robinson. Prosecutors said he helped transport the cross in a truck and held it in his garage until another conspirator, Michael Francis Bealonis, took it into a family's yard and lit it.
The family living in that house hosted a black foster child, and Mr. Stiffey was a neighbor and acquaintance of theirs.
"I would like to first apologize to the victims," Mr. Stiffey said, though the victims were not in the courtroom. "I am ashamed of myself for having any part in this at all."
"The victims in this case have felt imprisoned in their home" since the incident, Assistant U.S. Attorney Soo C. Song said. She said the act "threatened to derail the very positive path that the [foster child] was on."
Mr. Stiffey's attorney, Thomas J. Farrell, argued in pleadings that he had depressed parents and problems with panic attacks and drinking but that he wasn't the portrait of a racist.
Mr. Stiffey's fiancee wrote to the judge identifying herself as biracial and saying that "was never a problem when it came to Kenny's love for me."
Nicholas Clark, 22, who is Mr. Stiffey's brother's boyfriend and lives with the Stiffey family, said he is half white, half black and is close to the defendant.
That Mr. Stiffey engaged in a racial crime "is shocking to me," Mr. Clark said. "It's weird. He's not like that. ... It was a distasteful prank that got out of hand."
Mr. Stiffey in March pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the rights of others and was detained then because he had failed a drug test while on bond.
Mr. Farrell argued that he would endure hard times because of the racial nature of his crime. Mr. Stiffey was, in fact, wearing garb from the jail's Disciplinary Housing Unit, where inmates are often kept when they are believed to face high risk of assault.
After release, Mr. Stiffey will be under federal supervision for three years.
Mr. Bealonis was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for his role. Another conspirator, Michael Duane Bracken, is to be sentenced Sept. 26, and the disposition of a juvenile who participated in the cross burning is unknown.
First Published September 9, 2011 12:00 am