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Two plead guilty to charges in Mississippi black man's death

(Reuters) - Two Mississippi men pleaded guilty Tuesday to hate crime charges connected to the death of a black man who was run over by a truck because of his race, federal officials said.

William Kirk Montgomery, 23, and Jonathan Kyle Gaskamp, 20, both white, pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy and federal hate crime charges for their roles in assaults on African-Americans that culminated in the death of James Craig Anderson, 49, on June 26, 2011, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice. The pleas were given in U.S. District Court in Jackson, Mississippi.

"The defendants today took responsibility for committing federal hate crimes by assaulting vulnerable Americans solely because of their race," said U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis, in a statement.

Montgomery was linked directly to the attack on Anderson, while Gaskamp was linked to another racially motivated assault.

Three other white Mississippi men, Deryl Paul Dedmon, 20, John Aaron Rice, 19, and Dylan Wade Butler, 21, have previously entered guilty pleas in connection with the case.

Beginning in the spring of 2011, Montgomery, Gaskamp and others began a campaign of harassing and assaulting African-Americans in and around Jackson, Mississippi, using beer bottles, sling shots, and motor vehicles, according to the Justice Department. They would often brag about their exploits.

On one occasion, Montgomery, Gaskamp, Dedmon, Rice and others chased down and stopped a black man's vehicle and then beat the man to the point that he begged for his life. Gaskamp kicked the man in the head and body, prosecutors said.

On another occasion, Montgomery, Gaskamp and other members of the group had been drinking at a birthday party and talked about driving to Jackson to assault African-Americans, according to the Justice Department. Gaskamp did not go to Jackson on this occasion.

Anderson, a Nissan auto worker, was returning to his car before dawn on June 26, 2011 when he was confronted by a group of white youths, including Montgomery, in a motel parking lot.

Anderson was physically attacked before Dedmon deliberately ran him over with a truck, prosecutors said. Dedmon yelled "white power" during the attack. He received two concurrent life sentences last March for the murder.

A sentencing date for Montgomery and Gaskamp was not available.

Mississippi has a long legacy of racial discrimination and was a focal point of Civil Rights activity during the 1960s and since. The racist Ku Klux Klan organization was prominent in the state for decades and remnants of the group remain.

(Reporting By Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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