Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Jury sends message: $24 million awarded in Texas cross-burning case
Houston Chronicle ^ | Feb. 26, 2003 | Rosanna Ruiz

Posted on 02/27/2003 6:16:00 AM PST by berserker

A jury awarded more than $24 million to a black family Wednesday, punishing the five men who burned a cross in their Katy yard. The jury forewoman said the award is a strong signal that racist acts come with a heavy price.

"We wanted to send a big message," Shirlene Williams, 41, said later. Williams said the jurors had at one point arrived at a figure but were unhappy with it, and went back and added more.

The eight-member jury found that Matthew Marshall, Corydon Parsons, Paul Bergeron, Darin White and Wayne Mathews, all 23, were guilty of negligence, defamation and malice for burning the cross in the front yard of Dwayne and Maria Ross in June 2000. All five had already been convicted in criminal proceedings, and all received prison sentences. Parsons and Marshall remain behind bars.

The jury also found Mathews' father, Kent Mathews, negligent for allowing the five men to drink and assemble the cross at his home. The jury, however, determined that his negligence was not the cause of the cross burning. Still, because the defendants were all found guilty of conspiracy, he remains liable.

None of the defendants was in court when the verdict was announced.

Marshall and his parents, who were not in court during the trial, had reached a $490,000 settlement with the Ross family prior to Wednesday's verdict. The settlement means Marshall does not have to pay any part of the jury award.

"The jury has spoken," said Charlie Parker, who represents White, Bergeron and Wayne Mathews. During the trial, Parker had argued that the five defendants had owned up to the deed and had already been punished with jail time and fines.

When asked about a possible appeal, Parker said: "My clients are indigent -- they cannot afford an appeal."

Still, the outcome opens the door for insurance claims against carriers for all the defendants, said the family's attorney, Benjamin L. Hall III. He insists the $24,125,861 verdict is not a hollow victory.

"Eight conscientious Texans set the price for anyone thinking to burn a cross on a black family's yard -- and that price is over $24 million," said Hall, a former Houston city attorney. "I am as certain that this judgment will be paid as I was certain we would win the case."

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt, who presided over the seven-day case, had ruled Tuesday that evidence showed all the defendants were guilty of conspiracy, trespass, public nuisance and civil rights violations. Jurors only had to deliberate on the other claims, including mental anguish, loss of privacy, lost wages and other damages.

Maria Ross, who cried after the verdict was read, and her husband both said their case was not about money. They had originally sought $250,000 in damages from each defendant, but that figure was later increased to several million.

The couple, who had at one point lived in Louisiana and have since moved to California, said the verdict is a warning to others considering committing hate crimes. "This sends a strong message to the Katy community -- to communities throughout the country -- that respect for others is not only taught in school but has to be taught at home," Dwayne Ross said.

He added that the criminal case did not vindicate them and they felt they needed to pursue civil claims.

The move was applauded by nationally recognized civil rights lawyer Morris Dees, who along with Joe Levin established Alabama's Southern Poverty Law Center. The center helps victims pursue damages against hate crime groups. "I commend the plaintiffs for going forward in a civil suit that will hopefully be a message to those individuals out there that to do this, they'll have to pay through the pocketbook," said Dees during a telephone interview. "And to parents, that they need to be more responsible for what their kids are doing when it comes to hateful behavior."

Penny Weaver, a spokeswoman for the center, said incidents of hate crimes -- not only in the South but throughout the country -- are on the rise. "When these kinds of decisions come down, it does make the public more aware of how intimidating and how powerful symbols are," Weaver said. "Too often in our past, those kinds of incidents have been dismissed and haven't been dealt with as seriously as we should."

During the trial, Hall presented evidence about the defendants' role in the June 19, 2000, incident. Wayne Mathews provided pillowcases for hoods and plastic water bottles filled with gasoline. White got the wood for building the cross from his back yard. The defendants assembled the cross at Mathews' home. They carted the cross in Bergeron's truck. They attached rags to help ignite the wood and doused the cross with gasoline, and then Marshall leaned the cross on a tree and set it ablaze.

The defendants had said the incident was a prank prompted by binge drinking and drug use. However, jurors heard from an FBI agent who testified that at least two of the defendants had talked about committing the hate crime at least a week before.


TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; US: Texas
KEYWORDS: crime; hate; katy

1 posted on 02/27/2003 6:16:00 AM PST by berserker
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: berserker
Who wants to be the lawyer gets all the money? Like these rednecks HAVE $24M.
2 posted on 02/27/2003 6:20:08 AM PST by AppyPappy (Caesar si viveret, ad remum dareris.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: AppyPappy
be=bet
3 posted on 02/27/2003 6:21:13 AM PST by AppyPappy (Caesar si viveret, ad remum dareris.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: berserker
Why not a hundred billion trillion?
4 posted on 02/27/2003 6:21:42 AM PST by dead
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: berserker
The move was applauded by nationally recognized civil rights lawyer Morris Dees, who along with Joe Levin established Alabama's Southern Poverty Law Center.

Good news for the lawyers, no doubt about that.

I think this kind of racial bigotry is horrible, and deserves to be punished by law. But I'm troubled by the disparities in the law. Knock someone on the head in NYC and steal their money, and you'll probably get off with a warning the first four or five times. Offend against political correctness, and they'll throw the book at you.

Cross burning has always struck me as a blasphemy against Christianity as well as racial bigotry. The KKK had some strange ideas.

5 posted on 02/27/2003 6:22:36 AM PST by Cicero
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: berserker
If I were a member of the Ross family, I wouldn't be making any financial committments based on collecting this asinine award.
6 posted on 02/27/2003 6:23:44 AM PST by harpu
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: berserker
This is ridiculous - the criminal charges and convictions were enough...
7 posted on 02/27/2003 6:25:12 AM PST by Chad Fairbanks (Matt: "Ye should salt the Earth, lest it lose it's flavour")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Cicero
Under what clause and what policy is an insurance company liable for this? How is this sum going to be paid and by who?
8 posted on 02/27/2003 6:27:35 AM PST by Russ
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: berserker
"Maria Ross, who cried after the verdict was read, and her husband both said their case was not about money. They had originally sought $250,000 in damages from each defendant, but that figure was later increased to several million."

What??? Sure it's about the money, otherwise you wouldn't have asked for some!

What kind of "damages" do $1.25M cover? How can you stand there and say you were hurt to the tune of $1.25 MILLION, and then say it's not about the money?

BTW, where does Marshall get $490,000? Cross-burning insurance?

9 posted on 02/27/2003 6:32:37 AM PST by robertpaulsen
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: berserker
I'll let anyone burn a cross in my front yard for a mere $12 million.
10 posted on 02/27/2003 6:34:00 AM PST by Dog Gone
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: robertpaulsen
The damage would be pretty great if you were the one on the receiving end. Just how safe would you feel in your home from then on? How would your kids be affected? That loss of security in your own home should come at a high price to those who did the deed. The actual award was roughly $500,000. That is not out of line if you ask me especially when you consider they will probably get less than half of that in the end assuming they ever collect at all.
11 posted on 02/27/2003 6:40:46 AM PST by DB ()
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

To: Dog Gone
I'd bet you'd let them do it for $50... ;-)
12 posted on 02/27/2003 6:42:50 AM PST by DB ()
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 10 | View Replies]

To: DB
I'd be surprised if any money changes hands.
13 posted on 02/27/2003 6:50:22 AM PST by Eric in the Ozarks
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: Cicero
Cross burning has always struck me as a blasphemy against Christianity as well...

Ah, which brings up an interesting question: If the cross had been burned solely to blaspheme the religion would the civil rights of the property owners -- well know, devote Christians-- have been violated and could they have sued and won?

14 posted on 02/27/2003 6:57:52 AM PST by yankeedame ("Oh, I can take it, but I'd much rather dish it out.")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: DB
The damage would be pretty great if you were the one on the receiving end. Just how safe would you feel in your home from then on? How would your kids be affected?

But that is what criminal courts are for, and these guys had already been charged criminally. The issue of "safety" is one based upon criminal threats of violence. It is not a civil issue where there are actual quantifiable damages. If these people property was damaged by the cross burning, then they should collect damages based upon repairing the property.

This idea of people getting millions of money for a criminal act perpetrated against them where there was no physical damage or property damage is totally absurd and is needs to end. Restitution as part of the criminal proceeding(when physical or property damage is a result of the crime) is all that is needed to make things just.

15 posted on 02/27/2003 7:08:32 AM PST by FreeTally
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: yankeedame
Good point, the Muslims are burning Christian churches in Sudan, Phillipines and elsewhere and if a cross would be burnt in America with a religious hatred, it would probably not be punished. It's the race card that gets all the support and attention; I am glad the perpetrators were found guilty, but if the case had been a religious one, the jury would not have defended it the same way.
16 posted on 02/27/2003 7:10:07 AM PST by Hila
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 14 | View Replies]

To: yankeedame
That's interesting
When a group of "Blacks" pulled out knives an threatend to "Cut the baby out of the white bitch" (my wife 9 months pregnant with our daughter) at a mall in broad daylight..following us out to our vehicle under the watchfull eye of "Mall Security"

There wasnt much sympathy for us... (guess we had it coming for being white and in the "wrong mall") from the Mall or the local authorities. We were told we should have known this was a "bad mall" (for white folks is what they meant but wouldnt say)

Could we have sued the mall or their insurance carrier..what about our trauma?...certainly damaged me , my wife and possibly our unborn child etc etc...

I never would have thought of it...I got to our car and pulled out my Colt Commander and the confrontatin ended in a standoff... (that was twenty years ago so I cant imagine how bad it is now)

The jerks that burned the cross are criminals KKK wannabes...and as such should be prosecuted for that and made to fix the lawn...after jail some serious community service

If the whole neighborhood feels such animosity toward the family...being the dad...I would be moving.. I would think the neighborhood would be showing some support for the family..unless there is something else going on we havent been told about...to keep us sympathetic...

If the Insurance companies pay ...the customer base can pick up the slack and so can the stock holders
17 posted on 02/27/2003 7:13:08 AM PST by joesnuffy
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 14 | View Replies]

To: berserker
Uh oh. This can't be good for Robert Byrd. : )
18 posted on 02/27/2003 7:27:46 AM PST by CheezyD
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: joesnuffy
If the whole neighborhood feels such animosity toward the family...being the dad...I would be moving.. I would think the neighborhood would be showing some support for the family..unless there is something else going on we havent been told about...to keep us sympathetic...

My friend, you just may have swerved into something. Afrer all, pc or not, the fact remains there are two sides to every story.

19 posted on 02/27/2003 7:32:12 AM PST by yankeedame ("Oh, I can take it, but I'd much rather dish it out.")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 17 | View Replies]

To: DB
"Just how safe would you feel in your home from then on?"

According to the article, they previously lived in Louisiana and have since moved to California. I would say they have no reason not to feel any less safe than you or I.

"How would your kids be affected?"

Did they have children? The article didn't mention children. Why are you bringing up the question of children?

"The actual award was roughly $500,000. That is not out of line ..."

If that were true, I could understand it. But it isn't true.

They initially wanted $1.25 million ($250K from each of five defendants) but "that figure was later increased to several million".

Then, they settled out-of-court with Marshall for $490,000. Then the jury awarded them $24 million from the remaining four defendants.

Remember this? In 1987, Al Sharpton spreads the incendiary Tawana Brawley hoax, insisting heatedly that a 15-year-old black girl was abducted, raped, and smeared with feces by a group of white men. He singles out Steve Pagones, a young (now former)district attorney. Pagones is wholly innocent -- the crime never occurred -- but Sharpton taunts him: "If we're lying, sue us, so we can . . . prove you did it."

Pagones did sue, and 11 years later, while living under that lie, was awarded not $24 million, but $65,000.

But you have no problem with $24 million for a cross burning, even after the defendants served prison time. What a world.

20 posted on 02/27/2003 7:36:57 AM PST by robertpaulsen
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson