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Indiana man pleads guilty to hate crime for targeting neighbor with burning cross, swastika

After the neighbor started removing a tree, Shepherd Hoehn burned a cross and set up a swastika, among other acts. He also illegally possessed guns.

An Indianapolis-area man who burned a cross and set up a swastika to intimidate his Black neighbor in June pleaded guilty to a hate crime and weapons charge Friday, prosecutors said.

Shepherd Hoehn, 51, who is white, was angry because a neighbor was removing a tree on June 18, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Indiana said. The tree was on the neighbor's property.

Hoehn then set up and burned a cross facing the neighbor's house; used silver duct tape to create a swastika on his fence; blasted the song "Dixie" on repeat; and displayed a sign with racial slurs, according to a plea agreement.

“Hoehn’s hateful and threatening conduct, motivated by racial intolerance, is an egregious crime that will not be tolerated by the Justice Department,” Pam Karlan, principal deputy assistant attorney general of the department's civil rights division, said in a statement.

A request for comment from Hoehn's public defender was not immediately returned Friday evening.

Hoehn has not yet been sentenced, but he was taken into custody Friday by federal marshals and will be detained, according to court records.

He pleaded guilty to criminal interference with housing rights and a weapons charge because he had guns while a habitual user of marijuana, which is illegal in Indiana and federally.

"I wanted to make him miserable," Hoehn told the FBI about his neighbor, according to an affidavit.

Hoehn repeatedly denied being racist, but told investigators: "He’s a Black man. Perfect opportunity, alright. So yes. I wrote a bunch of racial slurs on a piece of board an put ‘em out there," according to the document.

The FBI affidavit also says that Hoehn told the agency that he was upset about Black Lives Matter protests around the country and efforts to remove statues — an apparent reference to the push to take down Confederate statues.

Hoehn walked around with a gun on his hip on June 18, and some construction workers said they were scared — one avoided turning his back on him, prosecutors said in a detention motion. The neighbor was so afraid he told family members to stay away and slept with a firearm.

A plea deal does not lay out a specific sentence that prosecutors will recommend. Each count that Hoehn pleaded guilty to carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, the U.S. attorney's office said.