Bulldozer case first in county to be treated as hate crime

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 5, 2004

[11/5/04]A state hate-crime law will be used for the first time in Warren County to prosecute a white man accused of bulldozing a black group’s church building, District Attorney Gil Martin said.

A county investigation has found the act was racially motivated and therefore fits the state’s definition of a hate crime, one committed “by reason of the actual or perceived race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, national origin or gender of the victim,” Martin said.

Prosecution under the hate-crime statute will be the first here since the state’s hate-crime law was enacted, in 1994, Martin said.

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The circuit court district, which includes Warren, Sharkey and Issaquena counties, has “never had (a crime) that even came close” to fitting the definition of a hate crime, Martin added.

“This is an act of one individual,” Martin said.

A separate investigation by the FBI was begun earlier in the week and continued in parallel with the local investigation, said Deborah Madden, the spokesman for the bureau’s Jackson office.

“Our investigation is in the preliminary stages,” she said.

Federal laws against hate crimes also exist, and violations of them would be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

A bulldozer plowed through a mobile home serving as the home for First Assembly of Yahweh Vicksburg Church, 3820 U.S. 80, about two miles east of Mount Alban Road. The Warren County Sheriff’s Department was called to the church at 3:03 a.m. Saturday.

Zane Bearrick, 21, 160 Bridlewood Road, was arrested later that day.

The damage to the mobile home was estimated at $20,000, said the church’s pastor, the Rev. Robert Lewis Jr. of Ferriday, La.

The bulldozer was left running, blocked from going farther by a concrete pad in front of the mobile home. The church had planned to expand onto that pad and one on the other side of the mobile home.

Donut-pattern black tire tracks from a pickup were also found on the pad in front of the building.

Bearrick is charged with felony malicious mischief in the case.

The charge on its own carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The state’s hate-crime law provides for a doubling of the penalties.

The church’s business manager and the owner of the property on which the mobile home sits, Fred Clark, said the church planned to hold its regular church services at the mobile home from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Saturday.

Donations to the church may be made at any BancorpSouth branch.

The church has about 30 members, all of whom are black, but it sometimes has white visitors, said Richard Hudson, the church’s education chairman. Most of the church’s members are from Warren and Claiborne counties.

The church believes in the Holy Bible and has no relation to Islam, Lewis said. The church does not call itself Christian, but only because that word in its current use has been “polluted,” he said.