Victim Jimmy Lee Dean satisfied with punishment for 2nd man convicted in July 2008 beating
Bobby Jack Singleton, one of two men who brutally robbed Jimmy Lee Dean in Oak Lawn while yelling anti-gay epithets in July 2008, was sentenced Thursday, Aug. 27 to 75 years in prison.
Singleton’s co-defendant, 33-year-old Jonathan Russell Gunter, was sentenced in March to 30 years.
Prosecutors requested a longer sentence for Singleton, 30, because he’s believed to have caused most of the injuries to Dean, kneeing, kicking and stomping the victim in the head as he laid unconscious in the street just a block from the Cedar Springs strip.
Dean, 43, said afterward that he was satisfied with the sentence, following an emotional four-day jury trial in Dallas County’s 194th District Court.
"This sets a precedent for anything like this that happens," Dean said, adding that no one should be a target of violence for any reason, including their sexual orientation.
"I would have been fine with 60 [years], but I’m even better now," Dean said. "It shows that they [jurors] understand what happened and how awful it is. It gives me more faith in people than I had before."
Several of the jurors reportedly hugged Dean, some with tears in their eyes, as they left the courtroom. "Go live your life," one told him.
Laura McFerrin, a local LGBT activist who attended most of the trial, said she believed the stiff sentence shows how far the community has come.
Michael Robinson, the lone eyewitness to the attack who launched an LGBT hate crimes advocacy group in its wake, also said he was satisfied.
"That’s the message that needs to be sent for these kinds of crimes," Robinson said.
The jury found Singleton guilty as charged Wednesday of aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony punishable by five to 99 years in prison. The 75-year sentence means Singleton will serve a minimum of 37 1â„2 years before he’s eligible for parole.
Earlier Thursday, Singleton testified during the punishment phase, expressing remorse for the crime and apologizing to Dean, who listened from the audience.
But even though prosecutors played recordings of jailhouse phone conversations in which Singleton repeatedly used the word "faggot" in talking about the robbery, the defendant maintained that Dean’s attack wasn’t fueled by antigay hate.
In a signed, handwritten statement he voluntarily provided to police after the attack, Singleton said he and Gunter, both from Garland, traveled to Oak Lawn to commit a robbery because they thought gays would make an easier target.
Singleton testified Thursday that he and Gunter drank at least five pitchers of beer at a bar in North Dallas before the attack. According to Singleton’s statement to police, after deciding to commit a robbery because they were "low on money," Singleton and Gunter "snuck a gun" from his cousin’s house before traveling to Oak Lawn.
However, Singleton testified that he and Gunter didn’t intend to rob Dean. He said the attack stemmed from a verbal altercation with Dean and Robinson.
"It was just a fight that got way out of hand," Singleton said.
Singleton told the jury he has two lesbian cousins whom he was living with at the time of the robbery, and that he would have yelled anti-gay epithets during the attack regardless of who the victim had been.
"If me and you fought, I’d say the same stuff to you," Singleton told Dallas County prosecutor Marshall McCallum during cross-examination. "It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re gay or anything like that."
Singleton sobbed audibly from behind the defense table while his father testified during the penalty phase late Wednesday. But prosecutors argued Thursday that Singleton’s apology and remorse were insincere and selfish.
"Don’t be fooled by these fake tears," McCallum told the jury. "Those tears are not for Jimmy Dean."
Singleton’s attorney, Edwin "Bubba" King, suggested probation as a possible punishment and told the jury that if they sentenced Singleton to more than 20 years, it would be "highly, highly inappropriate."
King also tried to argue that Singleton’s case had been prosecuted more aggressively because Dean is gay. But McCallum denied that claim, noting that prosecutors chose not to file a hate crime enhancement in the case.
"That was a complete lie and fabrication that we prosecuted this case any differently because Mr. Dean is gay," McCollum told jurors in response to King’s statements.
McCallum told jurors that if they sentenced Singleton to only 20 years, they would become the "laughing stock" of the criminal justice system. He asked that they instead sentence Singleton to at least 60 years.
In the recorded jailhouse calls to his half-sister, which McCallum played for jurors three times, Singleton laughed and joked about the attack and suggested that he could avoid being charged with a hate crime by pretending to be gay.
"All I got to do is fill out one of them homosexual cards and prove that I’m a faggot, too," Singleton told his half-sister.
Singleton added that if he were later sent to prison, he would explain to corrections officials that he’s "not really a fuckin’ faggot" to avoid being housed in protective custody.
Singleton also admitted in the phone calls, as he did in the statement to police and again on the witness stand Thursday, to beating Dean.
"I stomped him two or three times," he said at one point in the phone calls.
"Is that why his nose was dangling off his face?" his half-sister asked.
"When you’ve got 230 pounds coming down on you, it’s going to do some damage," Singleton replied. "I ain’t no lightweight."
Dean, who was hospitalized for 10 days following the attack, told jurors on Tuesday that he suffered a broken chin, nose and back in the robbery, as well as a dislocated jaw.
He said his face has been "meshed together" by surgeons and that the roof of his mouth is "made of metal." Dean lost his sense of smell and most of his teeth in the attack, and multiple reconstructive surgeries have been unsuccessful in repairing his drooping lower right eyelid.
Dean said he still experiences pain from the time he wakes in the morning until he goes to bed at night. A guitarist, Dean said when the attack occurred, he’d recently recorded a demo album and was hoping to begin performing at nightclubs on Cedar Springs.
However, he said he’s lost interest in music since the attack, and that he now suffers from anxiety and depression.
Dean said later in an interview that he’s in the process of relocating from Dallas, largely because of the attack. But Dean and his longtime roommate, Thomas Bergh, said previous reports suggesting they’ve been evicted from their apartment and have been living on the streets were false.
Dean and Bergh said they are staying with friends and plan to move to Oklahoma once Dean’s medical procedures are complete.
Dean added that none of his friends from before the attack — with the exception of Bergh — showed up for Gunter’s or Singleton’s trial. But he said he was thankful to have the support of about 10 people from the LGBT community who attended portions of this week’s proceedings.
"I’m finding that the friends I do have are the people I didn’t even know before this happened," Dean said.
LGBT activists had encouraged people to attend Singleton’s trial to support Dean and to send a message that anti-gay hate won’t be tolerated.
"I wanted to be here for Jimmy," McFerrin said Thursday. "I don’t know him, but it could be any of us."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 28, 2009.