ATLANTA — Federal hate-crime charges for the racially motivated murder of James C. Anderson in Jackson, Miss., were unsealed Thursday, leading to three guilty pleas from white men who admitted they used to drive into the city from a neighboring county determined to find blacks to assault.
Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press
Deryl Dedmon, 19, seen on Wednesday, added to his guilty pleas on Thursday.
They face up to five years for the conspiracy charge and up to life for the hate-crime violations. It was the first time the new federal hate-crime law, enacted in 2009, has been used in the Deep South.
The law expanded the definition of hate crimes and allowed broader cooperation between states and the federal government.
On Wednesday, Mr. Dedmon admitted in state court that he drove his truck over Mr. Anderson, 47, in a motel parking lot just before dawn last June 26. He was sentenced to two life sentences without a chance for parole.
The murder, whose race-based implications were slow to surface, shot to national prominence when surveillance video surfaced. In it, Mr. Anderson could be seen stumbling and then being struck by a Ford F-250 with Mr. Dedmon at the wheel.
Mr. Anderson’s death prompted marches in Jackson and accusations that the police and local prosecutors were not being aggressive enough with the case. Initially, only two of the seven teenagers involved were charged with crimes, and one of those was reduced to simple assault.
This week, with more of the case against the teenagers unveiled, it became clear that they had been going into Jackson looking for blacks to harass and assault since at least April, often targeting drunk or homeless people they thought would be less likely to report the crimes.
Mr. Anderson, who had locked his keys in his truck and who appeared to be intoxicated, was standing near his vehicle in a parking lot of the motel just off the highway when the teenagers attacked him.
His family argued against the death penalty in the case and urged that the matter be used to promote racial reconciliation in the city.
Sentencing on the federal charges is not likely to take place for months. Meanwhile, investigators said they were continuing to examine the involvement of the other four people who were in the parking lot that night.
“I think the prosecutors hope the pressure will mount,” said Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, who has also helped Mr. Anderson’s family file a wrongful death lawsuit against the seven.
Mr. Dees said Mr. Dedmon was likely to serve what is expected to be a 50-year sentence in federal prison before beginning his state sentences.
“It would be dangerous for him to serve his time in a Mississippi state prison that has a predominantly black population, given the nature of these crimes,” he said.