Two women who were in the truck used by a white teenager to run down a black man in 2011 received the maximum sentences for their charges in federal court on Thursday.
Judge Henry Wingate sentenced Sarah Adelia Graves to 5 years in prison and Shelbie Brooke Richards to eight for conspiracy to commit a hate crime in James Craig Anderson’s death.
Graves, 22, of Crystal Springs, and Richards, 21, of Pearl, were in the truck with Deryl Dedmon the night of the hate crime killing of Anderson.
Anderson was run down by Dedmon’s Ford F-250 in the summer of 2011 when a group of white teenagers left a party in Rankin County and traveled to Jackson with the intent of assaulting African Americans. Ten white teens have been charged in Anderson’s death, and six have been sentenced so far in the crime.
Both Graves and Richards have pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the federal hate crime law. Graves’ sentencing was set for 9:30 a.m., and Richards’ for 2 p.m., but early problems with an elevator held up the start time.
In emotional statements to Anderson’s family, both Graves and Richards apologized for the damage done by Anderson’s death.
“It was the worst decision of my life,” Richards said through tears. “I followed a lot of people with hate in their hearts… and I’m sorry for the actions I didn’t take to save Mr. Anderson’s life.”
Graves said the only memory she has of his face is always with her, day and night.
“I was a teenager who partied too much and wanted to fit in with the crowd, and I’ve asked myself so many times, ‘Why was I so afraid? Why was I so stupid? Why did I drink so much?'”Graves said. “I pray that not only God and Mr. Anderson can forgive me, but that his family can one day forgive me.”
Turning to the family in tears, Graves said, “I am so sorry for your loss.”
Anderson’s sister, Barbara Young, addressed the young women by their names as she gave the victim statement about the loss of her brother.
“You sat, watched, encouraged and rallied around as my brother was beaten,” she said to them. “Your thirst for the blood of an innocent African American caused you to pour more fuel on the fire that has ignited the great Magnolia State of Mississippi.”
Young told them they could have saved her brother, rather than encouraging the situation that led to his death.
“Shelbie, Sarah, what if you had grabbed the steering wheel? What if you had called 911? What if you had texted somebody?” she said. “The what ifs go on and on.”
Anderson’s partner, James Bradfield was emotional as he reiterated to the court how much different life is without Anderson.
“The days are never the same. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries… On a sunny day, all I can see is Craig out there working in the yard, trying to do everything he could for his family, and you took his life for no reason,” he said. “And you didn’t want to turn yourself in. You thought you’d get away with it.”
He also let Richardson and Graves know he holds them just as responsible as Dedmon.
“You texted everyone that night, but you couldn’t call 911? You are as much to blame as if you’d been behind the wheel,” he said. “You’re babies yourselves, but I don’t feel sorry for you. You knew what you were doing.”
Both women have admitted to riding in the truck with Dedmon when Anderson was killed. They also admitted to enlisting others to go with them to Jackson, which they called “Jafrica,” to assault African Americans.
Wingate read exerpts of some character letters to the court, putting special emphasis on one sent on Graves’ behalf by her mother. Establishing that her mother, Mary Miles Harvey, was in the courtroom, he called her to the stand and questioned her on statements she made about her daughter. Focusing on a line where Harvey said Graves was not raised to be a racist, he took out the presentencing report and red to her where investigators deemed Graves “a product of her upbringing.”
He pointed out where Graves had told investigators that her mother used to tell her and her brother they were “living like n—–s” when their rooms were not clean. Harvey told the judge that she did not remember saying that.
“I would have said negroes, not n—–s,” she said. “I just meant that their rooms were nasty, like a pig sty.”
Wingate asked her what she considered that slur to mean, and she said, “an ignorant, nasty person.”
“I was taught in school that a n—– was a nasty person, and a negro was a black person,” she said.
She told the judge she doesn’t feel her daughter was guilty of anything but drinking under age, staying out all night, and making poor choices to be in a vehicle with people she hardly knew.
Richards was romantically involved with Dedmon at the time of Anderson’s death, and continued to visit him in jail after he was arrested.
“This prosecution sends a clear message that this office, in partnership with the DOJ Civil Rights Division, will prioritize and aggressively prosecute hate crimes and others civil rights violations in the Southern District of Mississippi,” said Mississippi Southern District U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis.
Six other defendants in related cases, Dedmon, 22, John Aaron Rice, 22, Dylan Wade Butler, 23, Jonathan Kyle Gaskamp, 22, and Joseph Paul Dominick, 23, all of Brandon, and William Kyle Montgomery, 25, of Puckett, were previously sentenced to 600 months, 220 months, 78 months, 48 months, 48 months, and 224 months, respectively, for their roles in the conspiracy.
Two other defendants involved in related cases — John Louis Blalack, 21, and Robert Henry Rice, 24, both of Brandon — are awaiting sentencing.
“The FBI takes very seriously its responsibility to uphold the civil rights of all citizens,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Donald Alway. “Together with its law enforcement partners, the FBI will continue its efforts to aggressively pursue and bring to justice all those individuals who conspire to deprive others of their civil rights merely because of the color of their skin.”