JACKSON, Miss. -- A Mississippi man who burned a cross in his front yard to intimidate his Black neighbors was sentenced Thursday to 42 months in prison.
U.S. Southern District of Mississippi Judge Sul Ozerden handed down the sentence after Axel Cox, 24, pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime in December.
Cox, of Gulfport, was charged with violating the Fair Housing Act over a December 2020 incident in which he put together a wooden cross in his front yard and propped it up so his Black neighbors could see it. He then doused it with motor oil and lit it on fire. He also addressed the family with racially derogatory language, records say.
“This cross burning was an abhorrent act that used a traditional symbol of hatred and violence to stoke fear and drive a Black family out of their home,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
Clarke added, “While one might think cross-burnings and white supremacist threats and violence are things of the past, the unfortunate reality is that these incidents continue today."
The Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups historically practiced cross burnings to intimidate Black and Jewish people.
A grand jury indicted Cox in September 2022. His attorney, Jim Davis, filed a notice of intent for him to plead guilty to the cross burning in November. Davis did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Davis told the Biloxi Sun Herald that Cox was reacting to his neighbors allegedly shooting and killing his dog. He added that his client acted “totally inappropriately.”
This story has been updated to correct that Cox was sentenced to 42 months in prison, not 42 years as an initial Justice Department news release stated. The departed has corrected the sentence length. With AP Photo.
Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikergoldberg.