Florida Men Who Burned Cross Because They Hated Interracial Couple Sentenced to Federal Prison

The idea of an interracial relationship so angered two Florida men that when a black man began regularly visiting a white woman who lived on their block they burned a cross in the couple’s front yard—and on Tuesday both racists were sentenced to prison for the hate crime.

Thomas Sigler was sentenced to almost three years in federal prison, while William Dennis will spend just under two years behind bars, a federal judge decided. Both pleaded guilty to a series of events that began in April 2012, when a white woman identified in court papers as K.L. rented a house on their block in Port Richey, Florida.

The woman was dating a black man, identified as D.M., who lived nearby and frequently visited her. Dennis didn’t like that: He and another neighbor, Thomas Sigler III, would yell racial slurs at D.M. when he was walking on Seward Drive. Several witnesses told investigators that Dennis and Sigler openly discussed their anger about D.M. being on Seward Drive, and described their hatred of him as “an obsession.”

Later that year, the hulking Sigler beat D.M. unconscious while yelling racial epithets as Dennis stopped a neighbor from stepping in to help D.M., according to court papers. Then, on Halloween, the two men built a cross, poured gasoline on it and then leaned it against a mailbox in front of the interracial couple’s home and lit it on fire. 04_12_CrossBurning_02 About six months before Thomas Sigler, William Dennis and Pascual Carlos Pietri burned a cross in the front yard of an interracial couple in 2012, racist graffiti appeared on a vacant home on the same street. United States Attorney's Office/Middle District of Florida

“The victims were attacked and threatened in their own neighborhood and home because of their race,” John M. Gore, acting assistant attorney for civil rights, said in a statement. “Such violence and intimidation has no place in our society. The Justice Department is committed to protecting the rights of all citizens, and will continue to vigorously prosecute individuals who commit such atrocious acts of hate.”

While Sigler and Dennis were indicted well before President Trump appointed U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Alabaman headed the Department of Justice by the time the two men pleaded guilty this spring. Civil rights groups had worried Sessions would put hate crime laws on the back burner, Politico has reported, but he has promised to aggressively prosecute such attacks.

“I know the responsibility that we have, and we have a responsibility to protect people’s freedom, their religious rights, their integrity, their ability to express themselves, to push back against violence and hate crimes that occur in our country,” Sessions told federal prosecutors at a hate crimes summit in Washington in June. “So, we’re going to do that, I will assure you, in every way.”