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The Cross Burning Case: What Really Happened
National Review Online ^ | January 9, 2003 | Byron York

Posted on 01/09/2003 8:00:18 AM PST by Quilla

In their renewed attacks on Bush appeals-court nominee Charles Pickering, Democrats have focused on Pickering's rulings in a 1994 cross-burning case. Accusing Pickering of "glaring racial insensitivity," they charge that he abused his powers as a U.S. District Court judge in Mississippi to give a light sentence to a man convicted of the crime. "Why anyone would go the whole nine yards and then some to get a lighter sentence for a convicted cross burner is beyond me," New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer said Wednesday. "Why anyone would do that — in 1994 and in a state with Mississippi's history — is simply mind-boggling."

But a close look at the facts of the case suggests that Pickering's actions were not only not mind-boggling but were in fact a reasonable way of handling a difficult case. Here is what happened:

The crime took place on January 9, 1994. Three men — 20-year-old Daniel Swan, 25-year-old Mickey Herbert Thomas, and a 17-year-old whose name was not released because he was a juvenile — were drinking together when one of them came up with the idea that they should construct a cross and burn it in front of a house in which a white man and his black wife lived in rural Walthall County in southern Mississippi. While it is not clear who originally suggested the plan, it is known that the 17-year-old appeared to harbor some sort of hostility toward the couple; on an earlier occasion, he had fired a gun into the house (no one was hit). Neither Swan nor Thomas was involved in the shooting incident.

The men got into Swan's pickup truck, went to his barn, and gathered wood to build an eight-foot cross. They then drove to the couple's house, put up the cross, doused it with gasoline, and set it on fire.

Because the case involved a cross burning covered under the federal hate-crimes statute, local authorities immediately brought in investigators from the Clinton Justice Department's Office of Civil Rights. After the three suspects were arrested in late February, 1994, lawyers for the civil-rights office made the major decisions in prosecuting the case.

In a move that baffled and later angered Judge Pickering, Civil Rights Division prosecutors early on decided to make a plea bargain with two of the three suspects. The first, Mickey Thomas, had an unusually low IQ, and prosecutors decided to reduce charges against him based on that fact. The second bargain was with the 17-year-old. Civil Rights Division lawyers allowed both men to plead guilty to misdemeanors in the cross-burning case (the juvenile also pleaded guilty to felony charges in the shooting incident). The Civil Rights Division recommended no jail time for both men.

The situation was different for the third defendant, Daniel Swan, who, like the others, faced charges under the hate-crime statute. Unlike the others, however, Swan pleaded not guilty. The law requires that the government prove the accused acted out of racial animus, and Swan, whose defense consisted mainly of the contention that he was drunk on the night of the cross burning, maintained that he simply did not have the racial animus necessary to be guilty of a hate crime under federal law.

The case went to trial in Pickering's courtroom. During the course of testimony, Pickering came to suspect the Civil Rights Division had made a plea bargain with the wrong defendant. No one questioned the Justice Department's decision to go easy on the low-IQ Thomas, but the 17-year-old was a different case. "It was established to the satisfaction of this court that although the juvenile was younger than the defendant Daniel Swan, that nevertheless the juvenile was the ring leader in the burning of the cross involved in this crime," Pickering wrote in a memorandum after the verdict. "It was clearly established that the juvenile had racial animus....The court expressed both to the government and to counsel for the juvenile serious reservations about not imposing time in the Bureau of Prisons for the juvenile defendant."

In addition to the 17-year-old's role as leader, there was significant evidence, including the fact that he had once fired a shot into the mixed-race couple's home, suggesting that he had a history of violent hostility to blacks that far outweighed any racial animosity felt by Daniel Swan. Swan had no criminal record, and seven witnesses testified that they were not aware of any racial animus he might have held against black people. On the other hand, one witness testified that he believed Swan did not like blacks, and Swan admitted under questioning that he had used the "N" word in the past. In the end, Swan was found guilty — there was no doubt that he had taken an active role in the cross burning — and the Justice Department recommended that he be sentenced to seven and a half years in jail.

At that point, the Justice Department had already made a no-jail deal with the 17-year-old. When it came time to sentence Swan, Pickering questioned whether it made sense that the most-guilty defendant got off with a misdemeanor and no jail time, while a less-guilty defendant would be sentenced to seven and a half years in prison. "The recommendation of the government in this instance is clearly the most egregious instance of disproportionate sentencing recommended by the government in any case pending before this court," Pickering wrote. "The defendant [Swan] clearly had less racial animosity than the juvenile."

Compounding Pickering's concern was a conflict between two federal appeals-court rulings over the applicability of a statutory mandatory minimum sentence to the case. The Justice Department insisted that Swan be sentenced to a minimum of five years under one statute and two and a half years under a separate law. Pickering doubted whether both were applicable to the case and asked Civil Rights Division lawyers whether the same sentencing standards were used in cases in other federal circuits. The prosecutors said they would check with Washington for an answer.

Pickering set a sentencing date of January 3, 1995. As the date approached, he waited for an answer from the Justice Department. He asked in November, 1994 and received no response. He asked again in December and received no response. He asked again on January 2, the day before the sentencing, and still received no response. He delayed sentencing, and on January 4 wrote a strongly-worded order to prosecutors demanding not only that they respond to his questions but that they take the issue up personally with Attorney General Janet Reno and report back within ten days.

Shortly after issuing the order, Pickering called assistant attorney general Frank Hunger, a Mississippian and friend of Pickering's who headed the Justice Department's Civil Division at the time (Hunger was also well known as the brother-in-law of vice president Al Gore). Pickering says he called Hunger to express "my frustration with the gross disparity in sentence recommended by the government, and my inability to get a response from the Justice Department in Washington." Hunger told Pickering that the case wasn't within his area of responsibility. It appears that Hunger took no action as a result of the call. (Hunger later supported Pickering's nomination to the federal appeals courts.)

Finally, Pickering got word from Civil Rights Division prosecutors, who said they had decided to drop the demand that Swan be given the five-year minimum portion of the recommended sentence. Pickering then sentenced Swan to 27 months in jail. At the sentencing hearing, Pickering told Swan, "You're going to the penitentiary because of what you did. And it's an area that we've got to stamp out; that we've got to learn to live, races among each other. And the type of conduct that you exhibited cannot and will not be tolerated....You did that which does hinder good race relations and was a despicable act....I would suggest to you that during the time you're in the prison that you do some reading on race relations and maintaining good race relations and how that can be done."

So Swan went to jail, for a bit more than two years rather than seven. Every lawyer in the case — the defense attorneys, the prosecutors, and the judge — faced the difficulty of dealing with an ugly situation and determining the appropriate punishment for a bad guy and a somewhat less-bad guy. Pickering, who believed the Civil Rights Division went too easy on the 17-year-old bad guy, worked out what he believed was the best sentence for Daniel Swan. It was a real-world solution to the kind of real-world problem that the justice system deals with every day. And it was the end of the cross-burning case until Pickering was nominated by President Bush to a place on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.


TOPICS: Editorial; News/Current Events; US: Mississippi
KEYWORDS: byronyork; charlespickering; crossburning
And now you know the rest of the story.
1 posted on 01/09/2003 8:00:18 AM PST by Quilla
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To: Quilla
<>In a move that baffled and later angered Judge Pickering, Civil Rights Division prosecutors early on decided to make a plea bargain with two of the three suspects. The first, Mickey Thomas, had an unusually low IQ, and prosecutors decided to reduce charges against him based on that fact. The second bargain was with the 17-year-old. Civil Rights Division lawyers allowed both men to plead guilty to misdemeanors in the cross-burning case (the juvenile also pleaded guilty to felony charges in the shooting incident). The Civil Rights Division recommended no jail time for both men. (from article)

Just wanted this highlighted as it goes to the heart of the story. Two men get off but Schumer and Co., wanted the 3rd man sentenced to the maximum for a crime committed by all three. This is absurd! This needs widespread dissemination IMO!

2 posted on 01/09/2003 8:09:14 AM PST by PhiKapMom (Bush/Cheney 2004!)
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To: Quilla
EXCELLENT Read. I knew nothing of the case, and now it's clearly visable that this whole bru-ha-ha is nothing but a Talking Point to further the stereotype that all Republicans are racists.

The sad part is that those who don't know this story will only hear Dicky Shumer's and Puff's remarks and will never be motivated to find out the ins-and-outs of the real story. American Politics at its best.

3 posted on 01/09/2003 8:10:17 AM PST by Drewman626
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To: Quilla
We all know that the real reason the liberals are determined to destroy this nomination is that Judge Pickering will not bend the law in favor of abortionists.

The bottom line for all those lying liberal presstitutes and their political bosses is abortion. They pretend it's all about race instead because that plays better with their readers and helps keep blacks on the Democrat plantation.

Thanks to Byron York for presenting the facts of this case. This guy got more than two years for getting drunk and burning a cross, although he was not the chief instigator. If a judge gave some murderous mugger or rapist more than two years in jail, the press would be campaigning for his early release.
4 posted on 01/09/2003 8:11:12 AM PST by Cicero
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To: PhiKapMom
Pickering set a sentencing date of January 3, 1995. As the date approached, he waited for an answer from the Justice Department. He asked in November, 1994 and received no response. He asked again in December and received no response. He asked again on January 2, the day before the sentencing, and still received no response. He delayed sentencing, and on January 4 wrote a strongly-worded order to prosecutors demanding not only that they respond to his questions but that they take the issue up personally with Attorney General Janet Reno and report back within ten days.

I thought this was a pretty telling paragraph as well. The Clinton Justice Department asleep at the wheel again.

5 posted on 01/09/2003 8:12:27 AM PST by Quilla (God Bless America)
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To: Quilla; mhking; rdb3; mafree
ping and bump
6 posted on 01/09/2003 8:18:21 AM PST by farmfriend ( Isaiah 55:10,11)
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To: Quilla
they charge that he abused his powers as a U.S. District Court judge in Mississippi to give a light sentence to a man convicted of the crime.

How come you don't hear them complain about the Reno Justice Department letting the other two off with a misdemeanor? How come?

7 posted on 01/09/2003 8:21:15 AM PST by jackbill
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To: jackbill
How come you don't hear them complain about the Reno Justice Department letting the other two off with a misdemeanor? How come?

The incredibly frustrating fact is that the "them" you refer to is the mainstream media, leftist whores all. (Exception: FNC)

8 posted on 01/09/2003 8:24:45 AM PST by Quilla (God Bless America)
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To: Quilla
Thanks for posting this, Quilla. I just e-mailed it to my somewhat liberal daughter in law school.
9 posted on 01/09/2003 8:24:58 AM PST by Bahbah
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To: Bahbah
You're welcome. In an exercise in futility, I'm going to email the article to Hillary's lackey, Schumer.
10 posted on 01/09/2003 8:29:57 AM PST by Quilla (God Bless America)
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To: Quilla
That paragraph jumped out at me too. Clinton's DOJ gets off two guys but not the 3rd and then his stoolies in the Senate try to block Pickering for giving the 3rd guy a break. That does not pass the smell test!

Don't you wonder why two guys got off with the Clinton DOJ but not the 3rd?

11 posted on 01/09/2003 8:32:07 AM PST by PhiKapMom (Bush/Cheney 2004!)
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To: Bahbah
bookmark bump
12 posted on 01/09/2003 8:33:25 AM PST by lepton
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To: Quilla
One other point - the sentence that Pickering delivered was hardly a slap on the wrist. Two years in jail is a significant sentence for what was basically a ont-time, drunken prank with no intent of actual physical harm.
13 posted on 01/09/2003 8:38:11 AM PST by Steve_Seattle
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To: PhiKapMom
The article explains why they got off - one was literally an imbecile, the other was a juvenile. I don't necessarily agree with the reasoning, but that's what it was.
14 posted on 01/09/2003 8:40:07 AM PST by Steve_Seattle
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To: Quilla
I'm sure he already knows the truth, Quilla. These people have no morals, no consciences, no compuctions against smearing people whether it's true or not. Good luck, though. Maybe he'll get the message that not everyone believes his crap or likes it.
15 posted on 01/09/2003 8:41:43 AM PST by Marysecretary
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To: Quilla
Thanks for the info.

Bump
16 posted on 01/09/2003 8:41:46 AM PST by baseballmom
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To: Marysecretary
The actual facts of this case are being twisted to further the democrats' agenda of borking Pickering's nomination. I wonder if anyone's every told them that you go to he!! just as quick for lying as you do killing.
17 posted on 01/09/2003 8:50:11 AM PST by Quilla (God Bless America)
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To: Steve_Seattle
And the 3rd guy got two years which seems perfectly legit to me. This is jut more liberal crap when they cannot find anything else to use against Pickering.
18 posted on 01/09/2003 8:50:11 AM PST by PhiKapMom (Bush/Cheney 2004!)
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To: Quilla
I agree, Quilla. They'll do anything to further their agenda, even if it means destroying someone as good and righteous as Mr. Pickering. Go figure.
19 posted on 01/09/2003 9:22:02 AM PST by Marysecretary
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To: PhiKapMom
"Two men get off but Schumer and Co., wanted the 3rd man sentenced to the maximum for a crime committed by all three."

But Chuckie and Company had no problem with Clinton's pardoning of FALN terrorists responsible for over 100 bombings in the country, not to mention the murder of New York City police officers. Among Chuckie's associatates who supported the pardons were: Reps. Jose E. Serrano, Charles B. Rangel, Nydia M. Velazquez and Eliot L. Engel

20 posted on 01/09/2003 10:32:47 AM PST by mass55th
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To: mass55th
Thanks for bringing up those pardons. You are right -- silence from the RATS on clinton pardons of terrorists was deafening.
21 posted on 01/09/2003 11:15:20 AM PST by PhiKapMom (Bush/Cheney 2004!)
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To: Quilla
Sen. Charles Schumer says:   "Why anyone would do that...is simply mind-boggling."

Some minds are easier to "boggle".

Regards,

Boot Hill

22 posted on 01/09/2003 11:39:55 AM PST by Boot Hill
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Comment #23 Removed by Moderator

To: Cicero
We all know that the real reason the liberals are determined to destroy this nomination is that Judge Pickering will not bend the law in favor of abortionists.

That's just what I was thinking as I read the article. Faced with the prospect of a just judge who'd render constitutionally sound decisions on abortion cases, the anti-Pickering zealots are suffering the pangs of the damned.

24 posted on 01/11/2003 3:02:03 PM PST by rhema
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To: farmfriend
Hi and thanks for the ping.
25 posted on 01/12/2003 12:07:17 AM PST by mafree
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To: mafree; 1Mike; 3catsanadog; ~Vor~; ~Kim4VRWC's~; A CA Guy; A Citizen Reporter; abner; Aeronaut; ...
REBUMP for relevancy!!!!!!
26 posted on 01/16/2004 2:25:58 PM PST by Howlin
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To: gov_bean_ counter; TheBigB
Bump for ammunition!
27 posted on 01/16/2004 2:31:14 PM PST by Howlin
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To: Howlin
It sure IS relevant ! :-)
28 posted on 01/16/2004 2:31:18 PM PST by nopardons
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To: PhiKapMom; Howlin
I'll leave yall to handle the arguements today. I'm too busy celebrating ALL of the great GOP news today:

Judge Pickering's recess appointment by POTUS.

Supreme Court's decision to permit Texas redistricting to stand.

29 posted on 01/16/2004 2:33:17 PM PST by onyx (Your secrets are safe with me and all my friends.)
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To: Howlin
Thanks for the ping!
30 posted on 01/16/2004 2:47:21 PM PST by annyokie (Wesley Clark: Howard Dean with medals!)
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To: Howlin
Aaaaaw, now, you've done it.... You've cast the pall of reason and sanity on the bashers, kicked their argument to the curb and spoiled their fun. LOL. You mean thang, you.
31 posted on 01/16/2004 2:55:23 PM PST by Darlin' ("I will not forget this wound to my country." President George W Bush, 20 Sept 2001)
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To: Howlin

Black Group Praises Recess Appointment of Judge Charles Pickering

1/16/04 5:22:00 PM


To: National Desk

Contact: David Almasi of the National Center for Public Policy Research, 202-371-1400 ext. 106

WSAHINGTON, Jan. 16 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Members of the Project 21 African-American leadership network praised President George W. Bush for his recess appointment of Judge Charles Pickering to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Pickering, who was originally nominated in May of 2001, has over 40 years of judicial experience. During his legal career, he testified against the Ku Klux Klan, defended black clients during the Jim Crow era and helped set up the Institute of Racial Reconciliation at Ole Miss.

"President Bush should be commended for the courage that he has shown with Judge Pickering's appointment," said Project 21 National Advisory Board member Horace Cooper. "Throughout his distinguished career, Judge Pickering has shown himself to be a man of both professional and personal integrity. He's committed to equal opportunity and the rule of law. We need more judges who understand their role to interpret the law, not to rewrite it."

Project 21 has been a leading voice of the African-American community since 1992. For more information, contact David Almasi at 202-371-1400 ext. 106 or Project21@nationalcenter.org, or visit Project 21's website at http://www.project21.org/P21Index.html.

http://www.usnewswire.com/

http://releases.usnewswire.com/GetRelease.asp?id=148-01162004


32 posted on 01/16/2004 2:58:29 PM PST by deport (You BECOME 21, TURN 30, PUSH 40, REACH 50, MAKE 60, HIT 70 and then it becomes day by day)
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To: Howlin
Thank you Howlin!
33 posted on 01/16/2004 3:07:30 PM PST by prairiebreeze (God Bless and Protect the Allied Troops. And the families here at home---they are soldiers too.)
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To: Quilla
Bump and bookmarked - Thank you for some really important information, and John F'n Kerry can go.. *ahem*
34 posted on 01/16/2004 3:17:29 PM PST by kingu (Remember: Politicians and members of the press are going to read what you write today.)
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To: Howlin
Thanks for the ping. Great read, I had no idea of the details of this case.
35 posted on 01/16/2004 3:35:53 PM PST by agrace
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To: Quilla
Great information. Thanks.
36 posted on 01/16/2004 5:08:36 PM PST by kitkat
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To: kitkat
You're welcome. I MUST be getting old - I can barely remember posting this.

I understand that the President offered recess appointments to his other judicial nominees that have been held up by the democrats. Pickering was the only one to accept the offer, possibly because of his age, 66.
37 posted on 01/16/2004 5:40:59 PM PST by Quilla
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To: Howlin
Thanks for that Relevancy Rebump, Howlin!
38 posted on 01/16/2004 5:46:09 PM PST by nutmeg (Is the DemocRATic party extinct yet?)
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To: Steve_Seattle
Swan served the whole 27 months, according to

http://www.clarionledger.com/news/0301/14/m01.html

39 posted on 01/16/2004 7:54:45 PM PST by Graymatter
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To: Quilla
I am amazed to find a federal judge who would actually concern himself with what is fair in a particular case. My experience with federal judges generally is they follow the government recommendation without blinking an eye. The poor sap would have gotten the seven and a half years the government recommended and there would be no controversy.

As usual, the government makes a "deal with the devil" and receives no criticism. Business as usual. When if ever has a government employee lost a job for a screw up? Ruby Ridge, Branch Davidian, 9-11, Bosnia, the list goes on. And people complain about the difficulty of firing a union worker!

40 posted on 01/16/2004 7:59:41 PM PST by Lawgvr1955 (Sic Semper Tyrannus)
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To: Quilla
Bumping so I can find this later.
41 posted on 01/16/2004 9:54:47 PM PST by barker (The Democratic Party has become the leading enemy of the American Republic.....headsonpikes)
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To: Howlin
Thanks for the ping

Clinton Admin lets 2 guys off while Pickering sends one to jail and then the Dems lie about what really happen

I have a few words I'd like to say to the Dems ... but Jim has rules
42 posted on 01/16/2004 10:10:49 PM PST by Mo1 (Join the dollar a day crowd now!)
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To: Quilla
Bookmarking ! ...


43 posted on 01/17/2004 5:20:28 AM PST by MeekOneGOP (Freeper formerly known as MeeknMing)
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To: PhiKapMom
This needs widespread dissemination IMO!

Don't bother. Judge Pickering's opponents don't oppose him because they are unaware of the facts-they oppose him in spite of the facts.

We, who deal in fact, logic and argument are constantly submarined by the left, for whom fact and logic are relative terms, useful only insofar as they produce a desired result.

They are not opposed to Pickering because he is not a good guy. THEY ALREADY KNOW HE IS A GOOD GUY.

They are not opposed to Pickering because of bad decisions he has rendered. THEY ALREADY KNOW HIS VERDICTS ARE UNIMPEACHABLE.

They are not opposed to Pickering because he lacks judicial temperament. THEY ALREADY KNOW HIS JUDICIAL DEMEANOR IS EXCELLENT.

It is a waste of breath to try to convince Schumer et al of the facts which they already know.

Our energy should be devoted to the same vigorous political combat that the other side excels at.

Ask yourself this: When President Xlinton nominated the radical left activist Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court (not a Circuit Court, mind you-to the freaking UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT!!!)-how much time was spent in floor debate and how many Republicans voted against her?

44 posted on 01/17/2004 5:40:37 AM PST by Jim Noble
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To: jackbill
How come you don't hear them complain about the Reno Justice Department letting the other two off with a misdemeanor? How come?

Because THEY don't EVER betray those who fight for socialism, and THEY NEVER fail to attack those who oppose it.

By any means necessary.

45 posted on 01/17/2004 5:42:19 AM PST by Jim Noble
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To: Jim Noble
Unbelievable -- August 03, 1993 - Confirmed by the Senate by Yea-Nay Vote. 96-3. Record Vote No: 232.
46 posted on 01/17/2004 5:35:31 PM PST by PhiKapMom (AOII Mom -- Support Bush-Cheney '04)
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To: Quilla
bttt
47 posted on 01/17/2004 5:46:17 PM PST by tje (There is nothing more serious than pleasure.)
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To: Quilla
Thank you for this post. It's so important for us to have FACTS to refute the Dims half truths or outright lies.
I read someone is sending this to Schumer. I'll send it to Kerry.
48 posted on 01/17/2004 5:46:59 PM PST by 4integrity (AJ)
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To: PhiKapMom
Unbelievable -- August 03, 1993 - Confirmed by the Senate by Yea-Nay Vote. 96-3. Record Vote No: 232.

Yes, I know. It was a rhetorical question.

Approved without objection in the Judiciary Committee, no floor debate.

49 posted on 01/17/2004 6:22:25 PM PST by Jim Noble
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To: 4integrity
It's so important for us to have FACTS to refute the Dims half truths or outright lies. I read someone is sending this to Schumer. I'll send it to Kerry.

Don't waste the postage.

They know the facts already. The most important fact they know is which side they are on.

50 posted on 01/17/2004 6:24:21 PM PST by Jim Noble
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