JACKSON, Mississippi -- In a hearing that lasted more than five hours Thursday, a federal judge sentenced two women to the maximum prison terms for their roles in the 2011 death of James Craig Anderson, the last of a series of white-on-black attacks.
U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate went out of his way to show relatives and supporters of the two women that their presence in the truck that ran over Anderson in a Jackson parking lot was not an isolated accident but the result of a pattern of racist behavior.
"I just wonder whether the hatred is just engrained for some particular reason," said Wingate, who in 1984 became the first African-American federal judge in Mississippi. "Then again, that's what race hatred is all about: whites who hate blacks and blacks who hate whites. It's just automatic."
Wingate sentenced 21-year-old Shelbie Brooke Richards of Pearl to eight years in prison after her guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to commit a hate crime and one count of concealing the crime by lying to Jackson police. He sentenced 22-year-old Sarah Adelia Graves of Crystal Springs to five years in prison after her guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to commit a hate crime.
Those were the maximum sentences available under the women's plea agreements. But Wingate said he wished he could send the women away for longer prison terms.
"I feel this defendant, as well as the other one, could have been charged with a much more serious count than the one that they are pleading guilty to," Wingate said after rejecting a call from Richards' attorney to sentence her to only the five years that Graves received.
Both women were riding in a truck that ran over James Craig Anderson in June 2011. Anderson died after being beaten and run over. Both apologized to Anderson's family Thursday.
"If I had one chance to change everything, that would be to give Mr. Anderson's life back," Richards said. "The decision to go on this mortifying trip was the worst decision of my life."
Six white men, sentenced earlier by a different judge, received prison terms ranging from four to 50 years for Anderson's death. Two more men await sentencing by Wingate.
Richards and Graves have acknowledged that they helped recruit people at a drunken birthday party to take part in the venture that eventually led to Anderson's death. Richards admitted that she encouraged Deryl Paul Dedmon to assault Anderson when they arrived in a hotel parking lot before dawn June 26, and then yelled a racial slur and encouraged Dedmon to run over Anderson when Dedmon returned to the truck. Prosecutors said Graves did the same, although she denied Thursday using a slur.
Hotel surveillance video obtained by The Associated Press and other media outlets shows a Ford truck back up and then lunge forward at 5:05 a.m. Anderson's shirt is illuminated in the headlights before he disappears under the vehicle next to the curb.
Richards also acknowledged that she lied to Jackson police detectives about the incident and her participation.
During the hearing, Wingate repeatedly objected to letters he received from supporters of the two women portraying their presence as an accident or one-time incident.
Both women, in their pleas, acknowledged they took part in one of the other racially motivated attacks that the group conducted, a foray into Jackson that led to the assault of a man who tried to sell the suburbanites drugs.
Assaults admitted by others include the beating of a black man near a Jackson golf course, attacks on pedestrians using beer bottles and a slingshot, and an attempt to run down another black man.
Prosecutors said the suspects usually sought out people who were homeless or drunk. Other than Anderson, the black people who were assaulted have not been identified.