Lamar County, Texas – The first of three accused gay bashers has been sentenced to eight years in prison by a Paris, Texas court on Thursday, February 23, following a plea bargain agreement. As reported in the Dallas Voice, James Mitchell Laster, 33, pled guilty to assault with a deadly weapon in the October 30, 2011 attack on Burke Burnett, a gay man who was attending a pre-Halloween party with friends at the time of the hate crime assault. Burnett, 26, was beaten, bruised, and burned when Laster and two other men yelling anti-gay slurs bodily threw him into a burning garbage barrel because he was gay. The story made national news because of the graphic nature of Burnett’s injuries. Gary Young, Lamar County District Attorney, released at statement to the Paris News, saying that Laster also pled guilty to the hate crime enhancement charge lodged against him for his role in the brutal attack. Laster will have to serve at least four years of his sentence before he becomes eligible for parole.
25-year-old Micky Joe Smith of Brookston, and 33-year-old Daniel Shawn Martin of Paris are still in jail pending trial for their part in the savage gay bashing of Burnett, who received 3o stitches to close his wounds, and suffered second-degree burns over a good portion of his body from being thrown in the burning trash barrel. Burnett, who now lives in Houston, was unavailable for comment on the sentence at the time of this report.
Significantly, this case is one of the few recent instances when the Texas hate crimes law has been invoked in sentencing. The Austin American-Statesman reported in January 2012 that the Texas statute has had “little effect” in prosecuting bias-motivated crimes in the Lone Star State. Since the law was passed in 2001, there have been no fewer than 2000 cases in the state which were bias-motivated, yet the hate crimes statute was invoked in only ten of these prosecutions. The reluctance of Texas prosecutors to use the hate crimes statute stands in sharp contrast to California, where prosecutors filed hate crimes charges in 230 cases in 2010 alone, and New York, where around a dozen hate crimes are prosecuted a year. The use of the Texas hate crime law in the Laster sentencing may set a precedent for its use by prosecutors in the two remaining trials stemming from the Burnett gay bashing.
Bridgewater and Boston, Massachusetts – Two recent attacks–one against a gay man on a Boston Transit train, and the other against a university journalist for writing a gay-supportive column in the Bridgewater State University Comment–suggest that young females are now attacking gay and gay-friendly allies with greater frequency and boldness than in the recent past. The Patriot Ledger reported that a student journalist was attacked who wrote a supportive article on same-sex marriage after the California federal court ruling on Prop 8. Destinie Mogg-Barkalow, who wrote the article entitled “Prop 8 Generates More Hate” told campus police that she was confronted by a young man with close-cropped hair and a red-haired young woman in a campus parking lot Thursday evening, February 16 who asked her if she wrote the pro-gay piece. When Mogg-Barkalow said “yes,” the woman struck her in the face, bruising her badly. She stumbled back to the offices of the Comment where staffers called for help. Mogg-Barkalow, who is a lesbian, has described her assailants, and the investigation is ongoing. The university police, president, and campus community have rallied in Mogg-Barkalow’s support. Bridgewater is south of the Boston metro area.
Huffington Post reports this week that Boston Transit Police are investigating an assault on a gay man by at least three teenage women who shouted slurs at him for his race and sexual orientation. The victim, who remains unnamed, had his face badly cut, and his nose bloodied. His backpack was stolen along with its contents: an iPod and a digital camera. A passenger on the T who witnessed the attack, Priscilla Ballou, told WHDH Channel 7 News, “[The victim] was on the receiving end of two kinds of violence: one, the physical violence against his body, and the other, the hate violence against his spirit.” Metro Boston Transit Authority spokesman, Deputy Chief Joseph O’Connor, said, “Some statements were made relative to his sexual orientation and we have conferred with the district attorney and the attorney general who have advised us to pursue that avenue.” An 18-year-old suspect from Dorchester has been questioned so far. The attackers, when apprehended, will be charged with assault and battery, and unarmed robbery, as well as a hate crime.
Bay State citizens, especially LGBTQ people, are deeply concerned about what this means for the safety and security of queer folk in a supposed liberal bastion of the nation. Conventional wisdom holds that young people are more tolerant of LGBTQ people, and that females are seldom involved in gay bashings. In both instances, younger women are alleged to have carried out physical attacks against gays and lesbians. Though the majority of violent attacks on gay, lesbian, and transgender people are carried out by young Caucasian men, the disturbing evidence of female anti-gay violence seems to be mounting. As hate crimes like this begin to pile up around New England and the nation, the conventional wisdom will have to be reconsidered.
Washington, D.C. The Washington Blade reports that over 200 attended a Tuesday vigil for a slain transgender woman at the bus stop where she died just the week before. Members of the family of the victim, Deoni Jones, appealed to the large crowd to help develop leads for the police, an appeal that appears to have borne fruit.
Ms. Jones, 23, was waiting for a bus at approximately 8:15 p.m. on February 2 when a male stepped forward and stabbed her in the face, a wound the autopsy report says was the fatal blow. The suspect was caught on a surveillance video, and according to breaking news from WJLA.com, Metropolitan Police have arrested 55-year-old Gary Niles Montgomery and charged him as Jones’s alleged murderer. It has not yet been determined whether anti-transgender hate crimes charges will also be filed against Montgomery. He appeared in court for his arraignment on February 11, and is being held without bail. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for February 24.
This horrible attack is the third murder of a transgender woman in Washington, D.C. in a little over a year. The two previous transphobic murders remain unsolved, and the city’s transgender community has called for more comprehensive protection.
Santa Maria, California – A 25-year-old man pled no contest on Wednesday to the attempted murder of a gay waiter, and received a 26-years-to-life sentence for the homophobic hate crime attack. Curtis Martin gained entrance to Denny’s Restaurant on East Main Street in Santa Maria just before opening time on a day in mid-September 2010 on the pretense of using the restroom. Once inside, Martin asked a waiter whether he was gay, and then stabbed him twice, once on the side of the neck and then in his throat, according to Central Coast News. Witnesses testified that Martin was yelling anti-gay epithets at his victim as he carried out the brutal attack. He fled in a car, but Santa Maria Police apprehended him within a few blocks of the restaurant. The victim survived, and is still recovering from the aftermath of his wounds.
Mercury News reports that Martin was charged with a hate crime which enhanced his sentence for attempted murder with a deadly weapon. No other motive has been uncovered for the crime than irrational hatred of someone he perceived to be gay. The assailant and his victim did not know each other prior to the savage attack. As Instinct Magazine suggests, now even an American dining icon like Denny’s is no longer exempt from hate crimes against LGBTQ people. We at Unfinished Lives hope Martin serves his full sentence. No one should have to fear going out to eat because of their sexual orientation.