ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The first men charged under a federal law that specifically banned hate crimes against disabled people pleaded guilty Thursday to branding a swastika on the arm of a Navajo man.
"Just when you think you've seen it all, along comes a case that shocks the conscience," said Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez, who oversees the Justice Department's civil rights division.
The pleas were entered by Paul Beebe, 28, and Jesse Sanford, 26, both of Farmington, to charges filed under the 2009 law that expanded civil rights protections to specifically include violence based on gender, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.
The law also eliminated a requirement that a victim must be engaged in a federally protected activity such as voting or attending school.
Perez said Beebe and Sanford exploited the man's mental disability and "defamed his body with the most obvious symbol of hate."
Another defendant, 29-year-old William Hatch, pleaded guilty in June to conspiracy to commit a federal hate crime.
The three men were charged in November under the federal hate crimes law for burning the swastika onto the arm of Vincent Kee with a metal coat hanger.
During the plea hearing, Beebe and Sanford acknowledged they took Kee to Beebe's apartment in April 2010 and began drawing on his body with markers after he fell asleep.
When he woke up, they put a towel in his mouth and coaxed him into agreeing to being branded with the hanger, which they heated on a stove.
They also acknowledged shaving a swastika onto the back of Kee's head; using markers to write "KKK" and "White Power" on him; and drawing an ejaculating penis and testicles on his back while telling him that they were sketching native pride feathers.
U.S. Attorney Kenneth Gonzales said the victim was "assaulted, branded and scarred because he happens to be a Native American – that simply is inexcusable and criminal."
Beebe will serve 8 1/2 years in prison and the other two men will serve five years each, Gonzales said.
As part of the agreement, the men will also serve similar, concurrent sentences on state charges, according to San Juan County District Attorney Rick Tedrow.
In the state case, Beebe and Sanford both entered Alford pleas conceding there is enough evidence for a conviction but not admitting guilt. Beebe entered such pleas to attempted kidnapping and aggravated battery, and Sanford to attempted kidnapping and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery.
Hatch was convicted in May of conspiracy to commit aggravated battery in the state case.