Three charged with branding man with swastika

US prosecutors said they will pursue hate crime charges against three men accused of branding a swastika on a mentally challenged man's arm using a heated metal clothes hanger.

Jesse Sanford, 24, William Hatch, 28, and Paul Beebe, 26, were charged in New Mexico with kidnapping, aggravated battery causing great bodily harm and other felony charges. The men were jailed with bond set at 150,000 US dollars cash.

"We'll explore every conceivable available avenue in charging them with a hate crime because what happened to the victim was so horribly wrong," said Chief Deputy District Attorney Sarah Weaver.

The three white men are accused of forcing the 22-year-old victim from the Navajo Indian reservation into a car on April 29 and driving him to an apartment.

Besides branding the man's arm there, police said the suspects shaved a swastika into his hair and drew degrading words and pictures on his body with permanent marker.

Afterward, the trio allegedly kicked the victim out of the apartment, and a nearby convenience store clerk called police, the Farmington Daily Times reported.

Hospital employees washed off the degrading speech and pictures. A local barbershop cut the man's hair to remove the swastika, police Sergeant Robert Perez said.

Officers obtained search warrants for the apartment and the men's vehicle. Insignia associated with white supremacist beliefs were found in the apartment, Sgt Perez said.

"We haven't identified this as a gang-related crime. That is still under investigation," Sgt Perez said. "But they appear to be associated in some fashion to the white supremacist movement."

Sanford told police the victim came into a McDonald's restaurant where the three men worked and was looking for a place to stay.

Sanford claimed that the victim, who wanted a haircut and a tattoo, "wanted the swastika design because it was a tribal symbol", according to court records.

It was unclear whether the three suspects had lawyers.

New Mexico's hate crime law would add one year to the sentence for each charge if the men are convicted. The suspects face up to 351/2 years in prison, including a mandatory 18 years for kidnapping, if convicted of all the charges and the hate crime enhancement.

The New Mexico Crime Victims Reparation Commission will help the victim with any medical, emotional or psychological issues that come about as a result of this crime, Ms Weaver said.

Farmington detectives also spoke with a plastic surgeon and were trying to make arrangements to have the damage to the victim's right bicep removed, Sgt Perez said.



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