Robert Keller, a 70-year-old resident of Hurricane, Utah, pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights crime Tuesday morning in federal court in Salt Lake City. Keller was charged with interfering with the housing rights of three members of an interracial family, who he had threatened with violence if they did not expel the dark-skinned family members from their home.
A press release from the Department of Justice says Keller admitted that he committed the crime during proceedings:
During the plea proceedings, Keller admitted that on Dec. 30, 2013, he wrote a note to two Caucasian family members of an interracial family threatening to kill them if they did not make their African American family member leave their home. Keller admitted that he used threats of force to willfully intimidate and interfere with the two Caucasian family members because they were occupying a dwelling while associating with their African American family member.
The incident took place in December, 2013 when Keller started leaving notes in public spaces shared by the family, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. He was upset because he was afraid that a black teenage boy in the family would start dating white girls, and wanted to make it known that was unacceptable to him. So he issued the threat: “If I catch that [n-word] around my daughter, I’ll kill the ass h— and then come find what stupid person brought him here in the first place,” one letter said. Another note found on the family vehicle also made racist remarks.
Video from a surveillance camera allowed the couple to identify Keller, who lived in the same apartment complex as the family.
When interviewed after the initial charges were pressed, Keller told KUTV that the hate crime was actually an exercise in free speech, “All I wanted to do was open their eyes.” “
“I just said, ‘What’s gonna happen later on down the road, when this black kid starts chasing these girls? Which I’ve seen,” he said. “That’s what set me off. I saw him walking down the street with a white gal.”
Keller faces a maximum penalty of one year in prison for the conviction. Sentencing has been set for Dec. 1, 2014, at 8:30 a.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge Evelyn Furse.
“Hate based crimes have no place in America. They not only hurt the individuals who are the object of such hate, but tear at the fabric of our society as a whole. In this case, the defendant’s attempt to rid his neighborhood of an African American member of an interracial family serves as a horrifying reminder that racial intolerance stills exists in some communities. This conviction sends a clear message that such despicable acts will not be tolerated by this office, but will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Acting U.S. Attorney for Utah Carlie Christensen said.