Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

East Texas Gay Basher Sentenced to 8 Years

James Mitchell Laster III, sentenced to eight years for gay bashing.

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.

February 28, 2012 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Slurs and epithets, Texas | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments


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