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Hate crime investigation grows in Mississippi

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A three-year federal investigation into groups of suburban white teens crossing into Mississippi’s capital city to attack blacks has grown to 10 indictments and six convictions.

The most recent indictments – two men and two women – were made public Wednesday.

The June 2011 death of James Craig Anderson, who was run over by a pickup truck outside a Jackson hotel, sparked a broader investigation into reports that groups of young white men and women would drive from the mostly white Rankin County into majority-black Jackson to assault blacks.

Prosecutors said the suspects usually sought out the homeless or people under the influence of alcohol.

Former Gov. William Winter speaks at a July 10 ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Jackson, Miss., division of the FBI and it’s role in the civil rights cases of the 1960s. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The Justice Department said Thursday it could not comment on the case.

John Louis Blalack, 20, of Brandon; Sarah Adelia Graves, 21, of Crystal Springs; Robert Henry Rice, 23, of Brandon; and Shelbie Brooke Richards, 20, of Pearl, entered not guilty pleas Wednesday on various charges including conspiracy and committing a hate crime.

Each was released on a $100,000 bond. A tentative trial date is set for Sept. 15.

Attorney Tom Fortner, who represents Graves, said Thursday he was waiting for documents from the government that would shed more light on the case.

“They’ve played this pretty close to the vest. They haven’t provided us all the witness statements and reports yet. Things will develop as we get that material and we try to figure out what is going on,” Fortner said.

Attorney Robert O. Waller, representing Blalack, declined to comment. Attorneys for the two other defendants did not immediately return telephone calls.

The indictment against the four was filed in May and immediately sealed. It became public when they appeared in court.

Other than Anderson, blacks assaulted during the attacks have not been identified. Prosecutors said the assailants used their fists, beer bottles, sling shots and vehicles in the attacks.

The assault on Anderson was caught by a hotel surveillance camera. It received widespread attention after the video was obtained by news organizations, including The Associated Press.

The video showed a white Jeep Cherokee leaving a hotel parking lot at 5:05 a.m. on June 25, 2011. Less than 20 seconds later, a Ford truck backs up and then lunges forward. Anderson’s shirt is illuminated in the headlights before he disappears under the vehicle. Anderson was also beaten.

Four men previously pleaded guilty for their roles in the Anderson case and other offenses, and two other men pleaded guilty in other attacks. They are awaiting sentencing.

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