A South Carolina man was sentenced to 10 years in prison Friday for his involvement in a murder-for-hire plot against his black neighbor.
According to the New York Times, 26-year-old Brandon Cory Lecroy pleaded guilty last fall for trying to pay a KKK member to carry out the murder. Prosecutors claim Lecroy asked a FBI agent posing as a white supremacist to kill his neighbor and hang him from a tree. Lecroy also allegedly asked that the hitman leave a burning cross on his neighbor's front yard following the murder.
"It’s one thing to think these thoughts, but it’s a crime to undertake to do harm to another," U.S. Judge Bruce Howe Hendricks said before announcing the sentence.
Lecroy was arrested last year after federal agents received a tip about the murder plot. Authorities directed Lecroy to an undercover agent who was to determine whether or not Lecroy was serious about his plans. The FBI said that on March 20, 2018, Lecroy had called the undercover agent and offered $500 for the hit. Lecroy was taken into custody after making an initial payment of $100 in the following month.
Lecroy's public defender Erica Soderdahl argued that her client's crime was not motivated by race and, therefore, should not be considered a hate crime. The attorney said the neighbor—who authorities have identified as "FJ"—kept trespassing on Lecroy's property, tried to start multiple fights, and would ask for food. Soderdahl said the defendant reached out to police to stop the trespassing, but nothing was done.
"But FJ kept coming back" the attorney said in court, according to The State. "It’s not about an overriding feeling toward a race—it’s about one individual [...] Brandon called the KKK because who else was he going to call? It had nothing to do with the color of his skin."
Federal prosecutors disagreed. They pointed to a number of recorded phone calls in which Lecroy not only used racist language, but also made references to KKK symbols, such as the aforementioned burning cross.
"Your honor, the fact that he reached out to the KKK—this is not a low-functioning individual,” assistant U.S. Attorney William Watkins said. "It’s telling that to get a black person eliminated, he turned to the KKK [...] He doesn’t call a biker gang. It all boils down to this: He sought to eliminate his neighbor based on his race."
Lecroy received the maximum 10-year sentence followed by three years of court-ordered supervision. He is ineligible for parole.