A South Carolina jury ordered two Ku Klux Klan chapters and five Klansmen Friday to pay $37.8 million for creating an atmosphere of hate that led to the torching of a black church in 1995.
The verdict exceeded by more than $10 million the amount of damages sought by the Macedonia Baptist Church in Manning, S.C., 55 miles southeast of Columbia, the capital. It represented the largest civil award for damages in a hate crime case."The verdict shows that there are still some things sacred in this country, still some lines that no one can cross," said Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, who argued the case for the church.
The jury of nine blacks and three whites in Manning, S.C., deliberated just 45 minutes before awarding $300,000 in actual damages and $37.5 million in punitive damages against KKK organizations in North Carolina and South Carolina and their leaders.
Mark Potok, spokesman for the SPLC, based in Montgomery, Ala., said the size of the award was unprecedented in hate crime cases. However, even if the verdict withstands an expected appeal, it is doubtful the church will be able to collect much.
Three of the Klansmen held liable are serving prison sentences for the church burning, and the lawyer for Horace King, the 65-year-old grand dragon of the North Carolina-based Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, said his client is a poor chicken farmer living on disability payments.
Nonetheless, Dees, in a telephone interview, asked, "If we put the Christian Knights out of business, what's that worth? We don't look at what we can collect. It's what the jury thinks this egregious conduct is worth that matters, along with the message it sends."