Image: Man with swastika shaved in his head
Farmington Police Dept.  /  AP
Police show a swastika shaved on the head of a 22-year-old mentally disabled Navajo man after an April 29, 2010 incident. Three men are accused of branding a swastika onto the victim's arm before shaving the symbol and using markers to scrawl messages and images on his body, marking the latest troubling race-related attack in this New Mexico community.
updated 11/29/2010 4:30:22 PM ET 2010-11-29T21:30:22

A New Mexico man pleaded not guilty Monday to federal hate-crime charges in the case of a mentally disabled Navajo man who had a swastika branded on his arm with a hot metal clothes hanger.

William Hatch, 29, of Fruitland and two other defendants are the first to be prosecuted by the federal government under a historic 2009 law targeting hate crimes involving disabilities or sexual orientation.

Hatch entered the plea during his initial appearance at the federal courthouse.

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Paul Beebe, 26, and Jesse Sanford, 25, both of Farmington, also appeared but had no attorneys and didn't enter pleas. U.S. Magistrate Robert Scott indicated he would have lawyers appointed to represent both men then scheduled their arraignments for Tuesday.

All three defendants wore orange inmate jumpsuits, with their hands and feet shackled.

Along with the branding in April, the three men are accused of shaving a swastika onto the back of the 22-year-old victim's head and using markers to write "KKK" and "White Power" on him.

Image: Swastika burned into man's arm
Farmington Police Dept.  /  AP
Three men are accused of branding a swastika onto a Navajo man.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberto Ortega said the case is the first in the nation to be pursued by the Justice Department under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

The law was named after two men who were murdered in 1998 in Wyoming and Texas. The statute expanded a 1969 federal hate crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim's disability, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation.

Shepard was a gay Wyoming college student who was beaten and found dead tied to a fence post. Byrd was a black man who was chained to a pickup truck by three white men and dragged to his death.

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Indictments in the New Mexico case were handed down on Nov. 12.

Hatch, Beebe and Sanford also face state charges of kidnapping, aggravated battery and conspiracy. The federal and state cases will run simultaneously, and federal prosecutors plan to work closely with the district attorney's office in Farmington.

If convicted of the hate crime statute, each defendant could face prison terms of up to 10 years. The possible sentence could increase to life if prosecutors prove kidnapping occurred.

Each also faces a conspiracy charge, which carries a possible five-year prison sentence upon conviction.

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