'Hate crimes' charge doesn't require 'hate' [Excerpt]
Judge: Victim's homosexuality enough to seek higher penalty
A judge in New York has ruled evidence of "hatred" is unnecessary for a prosecutor to pursue a "hate crimes" case against three men arrested for the death of a homosexual man.
The written ruling came from Judge Jill Konviser of the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, and concluded prosecutors only need to show that the man, who was beaten and then hit by a vehicle in a robbery attempt, was picked because of his sexual orientation, according to a report in the New York Times.
The judge said that is enough for prosecutors to seek enhanced penalties for the defendants, if convicted, under the state's Hate Crimes Act of 2000.
That type of law...is being proposed at the federal level, allows for higher penalties -- sometimes dramatically higher – for the same crime based on the characteristics of a victim, in this case his homosexuality.
The newspaper report said the case involves the death of Michael Sandy, 29, who allegedly was lured to a meeting place where he was abducted. He then was taken to another location, beaten, and when he tried to flee was chased into traffic. He died of his injuries after being struck by a car.
Prosecutors said the three defendants, Anthony Fortunato, 21, Ilya Shurov, 21, and John Fox, 20, found Sandy through a homosexual online chat room. Court documents allege they picked him because "this was an easy way to rob someone."
But when they were charged with murder as a hate crime, defense lawyers argued the law was unconstitutionally vague and didn't fit their clients' actions.
Defense lawyer Gerald Di Chiara said lawmakers who wrote the Hate Crimes Act wanted the statute applied only to cases where hate actually was involved. He quoted a state Senate memo about a law "designed to ensure that only those who truly are motivated by invidious hatred are prosecuted for committing hate crimes."
But Seth Liebeman, senior appellate counsel to the Brooklyn district attorney, noted the suspects "chose to go to a gay Web site, and there was a particular remark made by one of the defendants that this was an easy way to rob people."
Konviser rejected the defense arguments.
"This is a case where the defendants deliberately set out to commit a violent crime against a man whom they intentionally selected because of his sexual orientation," she wrote. "Thus, the hate crimes charges in this case are consistent with the intent of the Legislature."
The state's minimum sentence for a murder conviction is 15 years to life, but that rises to 20 years to life under the enhanced hate crimes designation.