Two plead guilty in Independence hate crime

If the celebration Wednesday of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech highlighted 50 years of progress, then two Kansas City court hearings underscored where work remains.

Logan J. Smith, 25, and Victoria A. Cheek Herrera, 34, each pleaded guilty to violating the civil rights of an African-American family in Independence by setting fire to their home and intimidating them with Nazi slogans and symbols.

Smith and Cheek Herrera admitted that in June 2008, they conspired to violate the rights of the family to live in a rented home in the 600 block of South Arlington Avenue.

Smith admitted that Cheek Herrera helped draw a swastika on his head and that he yelled, “White power” and made “Heil Hitler” gestures at the home. The two drew a swastika and wrote “White Power” on the driveway.

They then made a crude gasoline firebomb and threw it against the house.

Damage was minor, and no injuries were reported.

Smith acknowledged losing some mental capacity in 2001 when he suffered a brain hemorrhage, but he said he understood the charges and wanted to plead guilty.

“You’re pleading guilty because you are guilty, is that correct?” asked U.S. District Judge Brian Wimes.

“Yes, sir,” Smith responded.

At her own hearing a few hours later, a visibly pregnant Cheek Herrera, who was charged in May, said she also was prepared to plead.

“I have pregnant emotions, but I understand what’s going on and accept responsibility,” Cheek Herrera said.

Smith surrendered to federal custody after the hearing. Cheek Herrera already had been jailed.