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A judge on Monday sentenced a 71-year-old Utah man to a year in federal prison for sending a threatening letter to a Hurricane family after an African-American teenager moved in with them.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Evelyn Furse ordered Robert Keller to pay a $1,000 fine and report to U.S. Bureau of Prisons to start serving his sentence on Jan. 5. She also required a year of probation after he is released from prison.
Keller pleaded guilty in September to violating the Fair Housing Act by writing a threatening letter a year ago to the family after an then 13-year-old African-American moved in with the family in Quail Lake Estates in Hurricane. Keller used the N-word several times, though it was misspelled.
"There's no little black girls to go out with, so our daughters are in line," Keller wrote, according to court records. "I catch that [N-word] around my daughter I'll kill the ass and then go find what stupid person brought him here in the first place."
A second charge against Keller over another threatening note left on a vehicle was dropped after he pleaded guilty to sending the first note.
The mother of the family that received the letters told Furse during the sentencing hearing that the threats had made her family fearful of "my children playing in the park, playing with other children in the neighborhood."
"We constantly worry about it now and how this might play out in our neighborhood relationships," said the woman, identified only by her initials J.M.
Keller told Furse he was sorry for the letter and he hoped it didn't cause harm. But he disputed the mother's expression of fears about living in the neighborhood.
"Her kids and dogs walk past my house every night," he said. "If they were afraid of me, what are they doing by my house?"
Court papers say that Keller's mother died at his birth, that his father was an alcoholic and he was shuffled among family members while growing up in Idaho.
He told a mental health provider that his grandfather had beat him with a razor strap. "He thought I should've died and my mother should have lived," Keller said, according to court records.
He also told the provider that "the neighbor is participating with the NAACP, and stated 'Obama and [U.S. Attorney Eric Holder] have sent lawyers out to nail my ass.' "
Assistant U.S. Attorney Carlos Esqueda said the abuse suffered by Keller was not a legal excuse for criminal behavior.
Esqueda told Furse that while Keller's attitudes may have been socially acceptable in decades past, "We're in 2014 … and justice needs to be firm and justice needs to be swift."
Keller's attorney, Kent Hart, said Keller's house is up for sale and he is moving to Mesquite, Nev., where he will live after he gets out of prison.