I wanted to flag a case of which I became aware but that did not receive significant national attention (but should have). Last week, the Justice Department announced that a federal court in Texas handed down 15-year sentences for each of two men – Ramiro Serrata Jr. and Jimmy Garza – who brutally tortured a gay African-American man on account of his race and sexual orientation. The men were prosecuted under the federal hate crimes statute, 18 U.S.C. 249 (the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Act). This statute is not used often, but cases like this one help to strengthen the argument for why a federal hate crime enhancement law is desirable.
According to the DOJ press release,
“both men admitted they conspired to assault a gay African-American man because of his race and sexual orientation. During the assault, the defendants punched and kicked the man and assaulted him with various weapons, including a frying pan, a mug, a sock filled with batteries, a broom and a belt. The defendants also poured bleach onto the victim’s face and into his eyes, and Garza struck the victim in the head with a handgun.
Serrata and Garza further admitted that when the victim began to bleed during the assault, they forced him to remove all of his clothing and clean up the blood throughout the apartment. After the victim was naked, Garza pointed a gun at him while Serrata sodomized the victim with a broom handle. Serrata and Garza admitted that, throughout the assault, they called the victim ‘gay’ and other racial and homophobic slurs. The defendants also admitted that they repeatedly whipped the victim with a belt while calling him a ‘slave’ and making other references to slavery.
Both men acknowledged that throughout the assault, they also prevented the man from leaving the apartment by physical force and threats of force. The victim eventually escaped the apartment by jumping out of a window and running away until he was discovered by the police.”
I was also pleased to see that, in addition to pursuing the case under the Shepard-Byrd law, the Government pursued the firearms enhancement here, as well (using a firearm during a crime of violence). I might even say that 15 years was on the too-light side here. But still, the sentence was substantial and deserved.
WaPo has this interesting chart from last summer on hate crimes in the United States.