updated 5/7/2006 5:30:19 PM ET 2006-05-07T21:30:19

Three men are accused in a federal indictment of burning a cross near the home of a black man to intimidate him.

Christopher Mitchell, James Bradley Weems and Clint Wurtele, all from Fouke, are accused of conspiring to threaten and intimidate the man because of his race.

The three men are friends of Christopher Baird, 33, who admitted last month in court that the cross-burning Aug. 5 near the home of his neighbor Anthony Briggins was racially motivated.

Miller County sheriff’s deputies found a cross burning on a hill about 100 yards from the house where Briggins lives with Kristina Robb, who is white, and their child.

Defense lawyers maintain their clients are innocent and the cross-burning was not racially motivated. Paul Hoover, Wurtele’s attorney, described the incident to the Texarkana Gazette as a prank.

Prosecutors allege the three were drinking beer at Baird’s house when they decided to burn the cross to drive Briggins out of the neighborhood.

Baird pleaded guilty last month to a federal charge of conspiracy to interfere with the right to occupy a dwelling free from intimidation and interference based on race and color. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

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