A federal jury today convicted Charles Cannon, 26, Michael McLaughlin, 41, and Brian Kerstetter, 32, of a federal hate crime charge related to a racially motivated assault of a 29-year-old African-American man.
The defendants were found guilty of violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was enacted in October 2009. The evidence at trial established that on Aug. 13, 2011, the defendants approached the victim, who was waiting at a bus stop in downtown Houston. At least one defendant referred to the victim using a racial slur, and the defendants then surrounded and attacked the victim by punching and kicking his face, head and body. The defendants were arrested at the scene after a passerby called 911. All three defendants had tattoos known to reflect an affiliation with white supremacist groups.
“Today’s convictions under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act show that hate crimes are all too common in this country,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division. “The department will continue to use every available tool to identify and prosecute hate crimes whenever and wherever they occur.
“We hope today’s convictions send a powerful public message,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen L. Morris. “The Matthew Shepherd and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is a tool the FBI will use to aggressively investigate and prosecute hate crimes as felony offenses.”
The defendants face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. The sentencing is scheduled for July 16, 2012, before the Honorable Kenneth Hoyt, U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Texas.
This case was investigated by the Houston Division of the FBI in cooperation with the Houston Police Department. Assistance was also provided by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. It is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Saeed Mody and Special Litigation Counsel Gerard Hogan of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.