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Judge sentences Arkansas men to prison under hate crimes law

By Suzi Parker

LITTLE ROCK, Ark (Reuters) - Two Arkansas men were sentenced to prison time under a federal hate crimes law for attacking a group of Hispanic men and telling them to "go back to Mexico," officials said on Wednesday.

Frankie Maybee, 20, was sentenced to 11 years and three months in prison on Wednesday, a day after Sean Popejoy, 19, who testified against him in trial, was handed a 4-year term.

"The facts of this case shock the conscience," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. "Five men were almost killed for no reason other than the fact that they are Hispanic."

Maybee and Popejoy were convicted in May under the 2009 federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and Department of Justice spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said they were the first defendants to be sentenced under the law.

The pair were convicted over a series of crimes on June 20, 2010, that targeted five Hispanic men at the Red-X gas station and convenience store parking lot in Alpina, in northwest Arkansas.

Maybee and Popejoy did not know the men, nor did the victims do or say anything to provoke them, the Justice Department news release said.

The two yelled racial epithets during the attack, officials said, telling the victims to "go back to Mexico." They pursued the men in Maybee's truck and caught up to them, with Popejoy leaning out the passenger window wielding a tire wrench.

Maybee rammed into the men's car repeatedly, causing the car to cross into oncoming traffic in the opposite lane, go off the road, crash into a tree and ignite.

All of the men were badly injured and one of the victims "sustained life-threatening injuries," the release said.

Perez said that the sentences "send a clear message that the Justice Department will aggressively prosecute those who perpetrate violent acts of hate."

(Edited by Karen Brooks and Cynthia Johnston)

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