Sentence comes after conviction for aggravated robbery in connection with bisexual man in Oak Lawn
A 32-year-old Garland man was sentenced to 30 years in prison Wednesday, March 4 for his role in a brutal anti-gay hate crime that occurred in the heart of Oak Lawn last July.
Before recommending the sentence to Judge Ernest White, the same 12-person jury found Jonathan Russell Gunter guilty of first-degree felony aggravated robbery following a two-day trial in Dallas County’s 194th District Court.
Gunter and Bobby Jack Singleton, 29, also of Garland, are accused of beating and robbing now-43-year-old Jimmy Lee Dean on Dickason Avenue, just a block from the Cedar Springs strip, in the early morning hours of July 17, 2008.
Dean, who was hospitalized for 10 days after the attack and suffered permanent physical damage, said Wednesday he was relieved Gunter had been convicted. Dean added that he hopes Singleton, who’s still awaiting trial, is sentenced to at least a 60 years in prison because he was responsible for inflicting most of the injuries.
"I’ve got to live with this for the rest of my life," Dean said. "The only thing that will really make it easier is after the other trial. One down, one to go."
Dean, who identifies as bisexual, testified during Gunter’s trial that he’s undergone two surgeries attempting to repair his badly disfigured face. He also said he’s lost his sense of smell and may never regain it, and that he suffers from depression.
"I just hope that when the jury considers the punishment, they make sure that the punishment fits the crime," Dean testified before Gunter’s sentencing. "I know that no one’s perfect. I’ve made mistakes in my life, too. I’m sure that even some of the jury has.
"But I have never and could never see a reason to beat someone nearly to death just to have a good time," Dean said.
According to court records, Gunter and Singleton pistol-whipped Dean with a 9mm Glock handgun, then kicked him repeatedly in the head and body as he lay unconscious on the pavement, on Dickason Avenue between Throckmorton and Reagan streets.
Gunter and Singleton reportedly drank about six pitchers of beer between them at an unidentified establishment near Forest Lane and Greenville Avenue before traveling to Oak Lawn, according to witness testimony. Six empty 16-ounce beer cans also were found in their vehicle, and they reportedly fired the handgun twice en route to the area.
Gunter and Singleton, who were initially apprehended by security guards from nearby gay nightclubs, were charged with aggravated robbery because they were in possession of a Zippo lighter and a set of keys belonging to Dean.
Gunter and Singleton yelled anti-gay epithets during the attack, and police said the suspects admitted targeting Dean because they thought it would be easier to rob a gay man.
Dallas police classified the case as an anti-gay hate crime for FBI reporting purposes. But the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office chose not to seek a hate crime enhancement because it wouldn’t result in a longer prison sentence but that charge could increase their burden of proof.
Under Texas law, a hate crime enhancement doesn’t result in a longer prison sentence if the charge is already a first-degree felony.
Michael Robinson, a gay man who witnessed the crime and has since launched an LGBT hate crimes advocacy group, said after the trial he was “somewhat relieved."
"A family just lost a son for 30 years," said Robinson, who testified during the trial. "Jimmy’s messed up for the rest of his life. It’s emotional from both sides, but justice has been served, and hopefully this will send a message to the community that these kinds of crimes will be punished to the maximum."
Robinson, founder of United Community Against Gay Hate Crimes, had called for people from the LGBT community to attend the trial to show their support for Dean and to educate themselves about the process.
But despite Robinson’s efforts, only a handful of gays and lesbians attended portions of the trial.
"I’m disappointed that the community didn’t stand up behind one of its own," Robinson said. "For such a large gay community, it was a miniscule turnout."
Elizabeth Pax, a local lesbian activist who attended part of the trial on Tuesday, said she was also disappointed and suggested that more people would have attended if the victim had been a "twink."
"Where is the outrage?" Pax said. "It could have been any one of us."
In an unexpected twist, Gunter’s younger brother took the witness stand before sentencing Wednesday and announced that he’s openly gay. Jeremy Gunter, 29, testified that Jonathan Gunter doesn’t have anything against gay people.
"My brother hangs out with me and my friends," Jeremy Gunter told the jury. "He’s been down there [to Oak Lawn] many times with us, to the same bars that Jimmy Dean would go to."
Jonathan Gunter’s parents, Donald and Helen, also pleaded with the jury for mercy.
Gunter’s defense attorney, Charles Humphreys, suggested to the jury that his client, who was on probation for three felonies at the time of the attack, should be sentenced to six to 10 years in prison. But Assistant District Attorney Marshall McCallum suggested a sentence of 40 years in prison.
A first-degree felony is punishable by five to 99 years in prison, and Gunter will be eligible for parole after serving half his sentence.
The prosecution showed the jury photographs of Dean taken before and after the attack, and the graphic nature of the evidence caused one juror to fall ill on Tuesday. The sick juror was replaced by an alternate.
Gunter’s parents said they felt the sentence was overly harsh. They said although their son was partially guilty, Singleton deserved most of the blame.
After their son was sentenced, Gunter’s parents handed letters of apology to Dean that were written by themselves, Jonathan Gunter and Jeremy Gunter.
"This whole time we’ve been as concerned for him as we have been for our son," Helen Gunter said of Dean.
Paul Scott, executive director of Equality Texas, said late Wednesday that Dean’s case had been discussed earlier in the day during a legislative committee hearing at the State Capitol.
The hearing was on a bill seeking to launch a study of the state’s hate crimes statute to determine why it isn’t being used more often. Since the statute was passed in 2001, more than 1,800 cases have been classified by police as hate crimes, but only nine have been prosecuted as such.
"It was passed in order to serve as a deterrent," Scott said of the hate crimes statute. "It doesn’t do anything for preventing hate crimes if it’s never used."
McCallum, the prosecutor, declined comment after the trial.
Judge White said he expects Singleton to face trial sometime this summer in the same courtroom.