South Carolina Man and Woman Plead Guilty to Hate Crime and Conspiracy for Bias-Motivated Armed Robberies Targeting Hispanic Victims
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced that Charles Cannon, 26, Michael McLaughlin, 41, and Brian Kerstetter, 33, were sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt in Houston for their racially motivated assault of a 29-year-old African-American man.
Kerstetter was sentenced to 77 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release. Cannon was sentenced to 37 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release. And McLaughlin was sentenced to 30 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release.
On April 16, 2012, a federal jury found the defendants 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. All three defendants were shirtless to display their tattoos known to reflect white supremacist beliefs. To further antagonize the victim, 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 him in the face, head and body. The defendants were arrested at the scene after a passerby called 911.
“James Byrd was murdered 14 years ago not far from Houston because he was African American, and today these defendants have been sentenced under the critical new law enacted in his name for viciously attacking an African-American because of the color of his skin,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division. “It is a sad reality that violent acts of hate committed because of someone’s race are not a thing of the past, and the department will continue to use every available tool to identify and prosecute hate crimes whenever and wherever they occur.”
“The passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 provided a powerful tool to law enforcement,” said Special Agent in Charge Stephen L. Morris of the FBI’s Houston Field Office. “With today’s sentencing, the message is clear. Our communities will not tolerate hate, and individuals who commit such despicable bias-motivated crimes have been put on notice. They will be brought to justice and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
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, Texas, District Attorney’s Office. The case was prosecuted by Trial Attorney Saeed Mody and Special Litigation Counsel Gerard Hogan of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.