A federal appeals court in San Francisco on Friday upheld a conviction and sentence of a white Modesto man who made racist threats against a black neighbor, including a promise to burn a cross on the man's lawn.
Bradley Smith, 27, was found guilty in May after a four-day trial in federal court. He was convicted of interfering with Alfred Henderson's housing rights and lying to a federal investigator.
In late August, Smith was sentenced to 6½ years in federal prison and three years of supervised release.
Smith challenged the sentence, saying that the threats weren't serious.
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The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was not persuaded by his arguments. It upheld his punishment, finding that a sentencing enhancement for Smith's attempt to carry out his threats was appropriate and that the offense constituted a bias-motivated crime.
"No member of society should be subjected to racial threats and intimidation of the sort that the defendant engaged in here," said U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner in a news release. "The 78-month sentence upheld today should stand as a warning to others who are tempted to engage in similar conduct. Federal laws that protect our citizens will be vigorously enforced."
Smith engaged in a campaign of racial intimidation against Henderson from June 2005 to May 2007, according to federal prosecutor David Gappa. Smith's intent was to drive Henderson from his home in northwest Modesto, Gappa said.
The dispute began when the two men engaged in a war of words on citizens band radio, with Smith, who was known as "Opie 1," launching into a tirade whenever Henderson, who was known as "Slave Driver," began broadcasting.
The men were avid CB radio users, and many of Smith's threats were overheard by other Modesto-area radio users, according to Gappa.
In addition to the cross-burning threat, witnesses said Smith, who is white, threatened to hang Henderson from a tree, sexually assault Henderson's wife and throw a Molotov cocktail into the couple's home.
As a result of Smith's conduct, Henderson eventually moved to another community in the Central Valley, prosecutors said.
The case was investigated by agents at the FBI's Modesto office and was jointly prosecuted by the U.S. attorney's office and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2394.