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Judge sentences man to 20 years in death of Mississippi black man; second sentencing delayed

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JACKSON, Mississippi — A final pair of sentencings Thursday was supposed to wrap up the long-running federal prosecution into a group of young white men and women whose repeated assaults on African-Americans in Mississippi's capital city ended in the 2011 death of an autoworker.

But it didn't work out that way.

U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate did sentence 21-year-old John Louis Blalack of Brandon to the maximum possible 20 years in prison after Blalack pleaded guilty to two felony hate crime charges in January. However, sentencing for Robert Henry Rice of Brandon, who faces up to 10 years in prison, was delayed until May 8 after a Wingate ruling caused court officials to say they needed to recalculate sentencing guidelines for Rice.

Although only 10 defendants — all adults — had been announced, legal arguments during Thursday's hearing revealed there are also juvenile proceedings against an 11th person in the case. The group made multiple forays into Jackson to conduct racially motivated assaults on black people.

Six white men and two white women were sentenced earlier, receiving federal prison terms ranging from four years to 50 years. Deryl Dedmon, who was driving the truck that ran over Anderson, is also serving two life sentences in state prison. He pleaded guilty in a Mississippi court in 2012 to capital murder and hate crime.

"James Craig Anderson didn't die in vain," testified Barbara Anderson Young, the dead man's sister. "Because of his death, people were exposed, lives were touched, friendships were made. But nothing will ever be the same."

The 10 defendants have pleaded guilty to other racially motivated attacks, including the beating of a black man near a Jackson golf course, the beating of another man who tried to sell the suburbanites drugs, attacks on pedestrians using beer bottles and a slingshot, and an attempt to run down another black man when Rice was driving. Blalack acknowledged being present for at least four assaults. Rice admitted to being present for at least three, but did not take part the night Anderson was killed. None of the other victims has been publicly identified.

Blalack admitted to gathering beer bottles at a birthday party where a group decided to make the trip that eventually led to Anderson's death. Blalack also admitted that he helped distract Anderson and keep him in a parking lot before dawn June 26 as a second carload of people drove to the scene.

When the second group arrived in the hotel parking lot, Dedmon and a second man beat Anderson, and then Dedmon ran over him as he drove away in a truck.

Hotel surveillance video, obtained by The Associated Press and other media outlets, shows a Ford truck back up and then lunge forward at 5:05 a.m. Anderson's shirt is illuminated in the headlights before he disappears under the vehicle next to the curb.

Bob Waller, Blalack's lawyer, said that the lack of victims, plus Blalack's youth at the time of the crimes, argued for less than 20 years.

"I don't think he deserved this kind of sentence for what he did," Waller told reporters after the hearing. "I think the sentence was extreme."

Wingate, though, was unimpressed by Blalack's claims of rehabilitation in the nearly four years since Anderson's death.

"You made no effort whatsoever to try to rehabilitate yourself, to try to work with authorities or make amends," Wingate said as he pronounced sentence. "I don't believe you have any remorse."


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