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Mississippi Man Charged with Hate Crime for Allegedly Burning Cross to Intimidate Black Family


Axel Charles Cox’s jail and prison photos. (Harrison County Sheriff’s Department, Mississippi Department of Corrections)

A 23-year-old Mississippi man accused of burning a cross in his front yard to intimidate a Black family who lived nearby has been charged with a federal hate crime.

Axel Charles Cox was arraigned Friday after prosecutors obtained a warrant for him to be brought into court from state prison, where he’s serving eight years for drug and stolen property.

About 17 months before he was locked up, Cox burned a cross in his front yard in Gulfport, Mississippi, to intimidate five of his Black neighbors “because of their race and color and because they were renting and occupying a dwelling,” according to the new indictment.

The charges allege he also “used threatening and racially derogatory remarks” toward the victims, who are identified only by their initials in the indictment but were fully identified to the Southern District of Mississippi grand jury that returned it.

Cox appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert P. Myers Jr. for 11 minutes Friday morning at the Gulfport federal courthouse, waiving reading of the indictment and pleading not guilty to one count of criminal interference with the right to fair housing, a hate crime that carries up to 10 years in prison, and one count of using fire to commit a federal felony, which has a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison. He can also be fined $250,000 for each charge.

His lawyer, Assistant Federal Defender John Weber III, did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday evening. Cox is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Cabell Jones of the Southern District of Mississippi as well as Noah Coakley II, a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C.

A man who pleaded guilty to the same hate crime in Virginia was sentenced last year to 18 months in prison. James Brown, 41, also faced the same fire-related charge that Cox faces, but prosecutors dismissed it in a plea deal.

Cox has been incarcerated since May 3 after being convicted April 6 of receiving stolen property and possession of a controlled substance, according to the Mississippi Department of Corrections. The convictions are out of Harrison County, of which Gulfport, population approximately 71,000, is the co-county seat.

Read the indictment below:

[Image: Harrison County Sheriff’s Department, Mississippi Department of Corrections]

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A graduate of the University of Oregon, Meghann worked at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, and the Idaho Statesman in Boise, Idaho, before moving to California in 2013 to work at the Orange County Register. She spent four years as a litigation reporter for the Los Angeles Daily Journal and one year as a California-based editor and reporter for and associated publications such as The National Law Journal and New York Law Journal before joining Law & Crime News. Meghann has written for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Bloomberg Law, ABA Journal, The Forward, Los Angeles Business Journal and the Laguna Beach Independent. Her Twitter coverage of federal court hearings in a lawsuit over homelessness in Los Angeles placed 1st in the Los Angeles Press Club's Southern California Journalism Awards for Best Use of Social Media by an Independent Journalist in 2021. An article she freelanced for Los Angeles Times Community News about a debate among federal judges regarding the safety of jury trials during COVID also placed 1st in the Orange County Press Club Awards for Best Pandemic News Story in 2021.