Two Medford men who burned a cross and the letters "KKK" into the lawn of a mixed-race family will go to prison for violating the family's civil rights.
At the federal courthouse in Eugene Tuesday, Chief U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken sentenced Gary David Moss, 37, to 41 months in federal prison while his codefendant, Devan Klausegger, 30, was sentenced to 51 months. Each also will serve three years on probation and pay restitution of $3,107 to cover the moving expenses of Sol and Jonathan Whyte and their two young daughters, who no longer felt safe in their home, federal prosecutors said.
"It was very stressful. We are glad it's over," said Sol Whyte, whose ordeal started when flames flared on the lawn outside her west Medford home more than a year ago.
Sol Whyte, who was born in California and grew up in Mexico and the Rogue Valley, and her husband, Jonathan Whyte, who is from Jamaica, had moved to the house on Benson Street just months earlier. Their daughters, Sashagayle and Jasmatae, loved playing in the yard and riding their bikes while Jonathan watched over them, washed the car and tended the lawn.
"They loved the house and the yard," Sol said. "They still ask about it."
But in the same neighborhood on May 26, 2008, Moss and Klausegger were at Moss' home on Union Street drinking, making explosive devices out of fireworks and plastic water bottles and complaining about black people when they called another friend, Michael Haines, to join them. Haines ultimately contacted police and cooperated with investigators, despite threats from Klausegger, federal prosecutors said in a sentencing memorandum outlining their case.
Those threats drew Klausegger a longer sentence than his co-conspirator, said William "Bud" Fitzgerald, assistant U.S. attorney on the case.
The three men threw one of the homemade bombs onto the porch of a house on Hamilton Street in retaliation against a woman who lived there and had reported that Moss had a marijuana plant at his house, the memo said.
Then Moss filled a 40-ounce Mickey Beer bottle with white gas and the three went to the Whytes' house. Moss poured the fuel into the letters KKK and a cross, then Klausegger handed him one of the small bombs, which Moss lit and dropped, sparking flames that leaped toward a tree.
The three ran, with a neighbor who had spotted them in pursuit and shouting for them to stop. They disappeared into the darkness, and the neighbor returned to douse the fire.
Worried by the ensuing media coverage, Haines expressed his concerns to Moss and Klausegger, but Klausegger warned him not to go to police and threatened to beat him if he did, the sentencing memo said.
Haines contacted police a few days later on May 29, at first seeking anonymity and trying to minimize his involvement, prosecutors said. He was never charged.
With his statements and those of the woman on Hamilton Street, Medford police got a search warrant for Moss' house. On May 30 they seized fireworks, white gas, empty Mickey Beer bottles, a copy of "The Goebbels Diaries" (written by Hitler's second in command) and a photo of German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.
They also interviewed the wives of Moss and Klausegger, who said the men had gotten drunk, made bombs from fireworks, and talked about burning "KKK" into the grass at Union Park, an act one of the women warned them would be stupid.
Investigators arrested Moss at his home that afternoon and he confessed to targeting the Whyte family "because they were black," court documents said.
Fitzgerald praised Medford police and the Jackson County District Attorney's Office for laying the groundwork for the successful federal case, which was filed in July 2008.
Klausegger and Moss, both white, pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy to deprive individuals of civil rights related to fair housing. Both men admitted they wanted the family to move.
Under the plea agreement, prosecutors promised to recommend sentences at the low end of court guidelines, which provide for a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
At Tuesday's hearing, Jonathan Whyte advocated for the maximum sentence and read a letter the family had addressed to the judge.
The letter described Sol Whyte's anxiety about protecting her children; nightmares for Sashagayle, now 5; and limits on Jasmatae, now 3, who has a congenital bone marrow disease that weakens her immunity and often prevents her from playing in public parks.
Sol Whyte, who had stayed home to care for her ill daughter, had to return to work to help cover the family's living expenses, but has since been laid off. She said the family is again looking for a new home, hoping to save money by moving to a smaller apartment.
"This crime has taken a lot of time, money, and sleep from us," the Whytes' letter said. "Kids need to feel safe and loved by everyone and my kids don't have this thanks to the crime that was committed against us on May 26, 2008. We as a whole family don't feel safe."
Judge Aiken said the victims would bear the effects of the crime for life.
"Generally I believe human beings are kind and generous but in this case I think that veil has been pierced," Aiken said at sentencing. "No one deserves this, especially kids."
Fitzgerald said that Moss and Klausegger both expressed remorse Tuesday.
Moss wrote to Aiken that at age 36 he lost his construction job and was at the bottom of the stack in a new career.
He wrote he was "truly sorry for the fear and any problums I have caused Mr. & Mrs. Whyte" and denied being a racist.
"I made a huge mistake trying to drown my fears in a can of beer," he wrote.
In letters to the judge, both he and his wife described him as a dedicated but frustrated family man overwhelmed by events around him.
Karen Immergut, U.S. attorney for Oregon, said it is not clear whether the two had ties to hate groups but that at the sentencing hearing there was testimony that Moss' "100 percent peckerwood" tattoo could be linked to white supremacist groups in prisons.
Moss is currently in custody. Klausegger was released from jail earlier and has 60 days to report and be assigned to a prison by federal authorities.
Sol Whyte said she and her family were pleased with the sentences handed down.
"This will help people realize that there will be accountability," she said.
She also expressed her gratitude to all the people who had helped the family in the past year.
Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.