2nd suspect gets 10 years in Reno hate crime

Burke-Burnett

Burke Burnett is shown after the attack.

Micky Joe Smith

The victim of a brutal anti-gay hate crime in East Texas last fall said Wednesday he was “grateful and comforted” after the second of three suspects in the attack was sentenced to 10 years in prison this week.

Micky Joe Smith, 25, of Brookston pleaded no contest Tuesday to a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, plus a hate crime enhancement, in the beating of 26-year-old Burke Burnett, according to Burnett’s attorney, Don Haslam.

Burnett, who’s gay, suffered second-degree burns and needed more than 30 stitches following the attack at a private Halloween party in Reno, a small town just east of Paris and 100 miles northeast of Dallas, in the early morning hours of Oct. 30.

Burnett’s attackers yelled anti-gay slurs as they sucker-punched him in the eye, stabbed him in the back and arm with a broken beer bottle, and threw him onto a lit burn barrel. The case made national news after graphic photos of Burnett’s injuries were posted on Instant Tea.

“I am grateful and comforted to hear of the sentencing of Micky Joe Smith,” Burnett said Wednesday. “So many people who have endured similar experiences of hate crimes have not been afforded the opportunity to see justice served. The gay community in North Texas is a safer place today.”

Burnett declined further comment.

In February, 32-year-old James Mitchell Laster of Paris pleaded no contest to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, including a hate crime enhancement, and was sentenced to eight years in prison in Burnett’s attack. A third suspect, 33-year-old Daniel Shawn Martin of Paris, was scheduled for a jury trial Wednesday, but the proceeding was postponed, Haslam said.

Martin is charged with aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury, as well as a hate crime enhancement.

“It’ll be a shock to me if he [Martin] eludes the hate crime enhancement, whether he goes to trial or not,” Haslam said.

—  John Wright

Up to 58 Iraqi ‘Emos’ killed in anti-gay hate crimes (WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT)

Scott Long, a visiting fellow in the human rights program at Harvard University, sent out a link to a blog containing the above photos, which reportedly show one of the victims, left, whose skull was smashed in with a concrete block, right.

LARA JAKES  |  Associated Press

BAGHDAD — Young people who identify themselves as so-called Emos are being brutally killed at an alarming rate in Iraq, where militias have distributed hit lists of victims and security forces say they are unable to stop crimes against the subculture that is widely perceived in Iraq as being gay.

Officials and human rights groups estimated as many as 58 Iraqis who are either gay or believed to be gay have been killed in the last six weeks alone — forecasting what experts fear is a return to the rampant hate crimes against homosexuals in 2009. This year, eyewitnesses and human rights groups say some of the victims have been bludgeoned to death by militiamen smashing in their skulls with heavy cement blocks.

A recent list distributed by militants in Baghdad’s Shiite Sadr City neighborhood gives the names or nicknames of 33 people and their home addresses. At the top of the paper are a drawing of two handguns flanking a Quranic greeting that extolls God as merciful and compassionate.

Then follows a chilling warning.

“We warn in the strongest terms to every male and female debauchee,” the Shiite militia hit list says. “If you do not stop this dirty act within four days, then the punishment of God will fall on you at the hands of Mujahideen.”

All but one of the targets are men.

It’s not clear why the killings have stepped up in recent months. Many Iraqis are religiously conservative and have struggled against the western influence that has infiltrated their once-closed society in the wake of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Like many places in the Muslim world, homosexuality is extremely taboo in Iraq. Anyone perceived to be gay is considered a fair target, and the perpetrators of the violence often go free. The militants likely behind the violence intimidate the local police and residents so there is even less incentive to investigate the crimes.

Emo is short for “emotional” and in the West generally identifies teens or young adults who listen to alternative music, dress in black, and have radical hairstyles. Emos are not necessarily gay, but they are sometimes stereotyped as such.

Another victim is shown in these photos from the blog, 'A Paper Bird.'

To Iraqis, “Emo” is widely synonymous with “gay.” John Drake, an Iraq specialist for the British-based AKE security consulting firm, said Iraqi Emos are getting their hair cut so they aren’t immediately identified, and therefore targeted, in the wake of the new threats.

In the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Dora, a mostly-Sunni area, 35-year-old Hassan is afraid to leave his home. He plans on cutting his shoulder-length hair soon, but fears that his hormone-injected breast enhancements will be detected if he is stopped and patted down at one of the ubiquitous security checkpoints across the city.

“Today I went out of my house with a friend but we were severely harassed —some people told us that we need the double blocks,” said Hassan, referring to the cement blocks that attackers use to beat people. “I was scared so we returned home to hide.”

Hassan’s friend, a man who identified himself as 26-year-old Mustafa, called the recent hate crimes “the strongest and deadliest campaign against us.”

Hassan said he is gay but does not consider himself an Emo. He and Mustafa agreed to talk on condition that only their first names be used for fear they would be attacked if identified.

One of Hassan’s friends, Saif Raad Asmar Abboudi, was beaten to death with concrete blocks in mid-February in a case that terrified gay Iraqis and panicked human rights watchdogs. “I feel very sorry for him,” Hassan said.

A Feb. 18 police report all but closes the case on Saif’s killing. It shows an initial investigation was completed and “the reason for the incident is unknown at the moment because the criminal is unknown.”

An Interior Ministry official said 58 young people have been killed across Iraq in recent weeks by unidentified gangs who accused them of being, as he described it, Emo. Sixteen were killed in Sadr City alone, security and political officials there said. Nine of the men were killed by bludgeoning, and seven were shot. No arrests have been made.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity, as did many of the people interviewed for this article, in fear of violent reprisals.

The Quran specifically forbids homosexuality, and Islamic militias in Iraq long have targeted gays in what they term “honor killings” to preserve the religious idea that families should be led by a husband and a wife. Those who do not abide by this belief are issued death sentences by the militias, according to the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, a human rights watchdog group. The same militias target women who have extramarital affairs.

“There is a strong wave of campaigns by clerics against homosexuals now,” said Ali al-Hilli, chairman of Iraqi LGBT, a human rights group based in London that provides two safe houses in Iraq for gays. “The police do not provide protection for them.”

He said an estimated 750 gay Iraqis have been killed because of their sexual orientation since 2006.

Iraqi lawmaker Khalid Shwani, a Kurd, said targeting Emos because of their alternative lifestyles reflects an a growing intolerance of Iraqis’ civil rights.

“Those people are free to choose what they wear, or to believe in, or how they choose their clothes or the way they think,” Shwani said. He called on parliament to address the issue.

“The Emo of today could be any person tomorrow who tries to follow a specific way of living,” he said.

The killings have drawn so much attention that even hardline Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr weighed in Saturday, calling Emos “crazy fools” and a “lesion on the Muslim community” in a statement on his website.

However, al-Sadr did not condone the violence, telling his followers “to end the scourge of Emo within the law.”

Iraq’s government has been wary about the Emo allure among its youth for months.

An August 2011 letter from the Education Ministry urges schools to crack down on what it considered abhorrent behavior, including allowing camera phones in school “because students would use it for dirty movies,” says the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.

Similarly, it prohibited students from leaving their classes during school hours “for any reason, because they might gather in the nearby cafes or coffee shops to practice dirty activities.”

The letter attributed the social atrocities to “Emo, which is an infiltrated phenomenon in our society began to appear in some of our schools.”

Iraqi police squads who are specifically assigned to protect social minorities say they are almost powerless to stop the threats against gays and Emos. One officer assigned to the so-called social abuse squads said police are meeting with clerics to ask for help in urging the public against killing what he described as “the Emo or the vampires or Satan worshippers.”

The police official said he had no statistics to show how prevalent the violence is.

“It is true that there have been killings in Sadr City targeting these young men,” he said. “It is not right to end their lives in this manner.”

—  John Wright

1st of 3 suspects in brutal anti-gay hate crime in Reno, Texas, sentenced to 8 years in prison

Burke-Burnett

Victim Burke Burnett is shown after the attack.

James Mitchell Laster

One of three suspects in a brutal anti-gay hate crime in East Texas in October has been sentenced to eight years in prison.

James Mitchell Laster, 33, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to eight years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on Thursday, Feb. 23, a representative from the Lamar County District Clerk’s Office confirmed today.

Lamar County District Attorney Gary Young was in a jury trial and unavailable for comment this afternoon, according to his office. However, Young told the Paris News last week that Laster also “pled true to the hate crime allegation.” Young said Laster must serve a minimum of four years before he’s eligible for parole.

Laster was one of three suspects charged with multiple counts of aggravated assault, in addition to hate crime enhancements, in the beating of 26-year-old Burke Burnett.

Burnett, who’s gay, suffered second-degree burns and needed more than 30 stitches following the attack at a private Halloween party in Reno, a small town just east of Paris and 100 miles northeast of Dallas, in the early morning hours of Oct. 30.

Burnett said his three attackers yelled anti-gay slurs as they sucker-punched him in the eye, stabbed him in the back and arm with a broken beer bottle, and threw him onto a lit burn barrel. The case made national news after graphic photos of Burnett’s injuries were posted on Dallas Voice’s website.

Burnett, who now reportedly lives in Houston, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment this afternoon.

The other two suspects in the attack, 25-year-old Micky Joe Smith of Brookston, and 33-year-old Daniel Shawn Martin of Paris, are awaiting trial, according to online Lamar County court records.

Laster was initially charged with one count of aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury, hate crime, repeat offender; and two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, hate crime, repeat offender. The other charges reportedly were dropped in exchange for Laster’s guilty plea. Aggravated assault is a second-degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison. However, the hate crime designation could have enhanced the charge to a first-degree felony, punishable by life in prison.

—  John Wright

Texas’ hate crimes law still largely unused

Nearly five years ago, shortly after joining the Voice, I wrote this in-depth story about how Texas’ hate crimes statute is rarely used by prosecutors. This weekend, the Austin American-Statesman reported that little has changed since then:

Each year for the past decade, local law enforcement agencies have reported about 200 crimes that police said were motivated by the perpetrator’s animosity toward the victim’s race, ethnicity or sexual orientation, among other identifiers , according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which collects statewide data. Yet since 2001, when the Texas Legislature adopted its current hate crime statute, prosecutors have earned convictions on 10 cases — less than one a year statewide, according to figures kept by the state Office of Court Administration. Most have come in plea arrangements: Over the past decade, a single hate crime has been taken to a jury in Texas. …

The number of Texas hate crime prosecutions also pales when compared with some other states. In 2010, California prosecutors filed 230 hate crime cases. New York state prosecutors convict on about a dozen hate crimes a year.

—  John Wright

Gay man robbed, beaten, pummelled with rocks in hate crime outside El Paso bar

A gay man was beaten and robbed in an apparent hate crime Sunday night outside a bar in central El Paso. Emilio Moreno, 23, was leaving the Rumors bar when two attackers jumped him in an alley. Moreno’s brother, Gerardo Agguire, told KFOX Channel 14 that the suspects — who have not been caught — were hitting Moreno with rocks:

His brothers said the two men beat him up, took his wallet with six dollars in it, his class ring and even his jacket, before leaving him for dead.

“I  believe it was ahate crime because they were beating him up and calling him homosexual slurs,” said Gerardo.

Neighbors who live next to the alley heard the commotion and called an ambulance. As of Tuesday night, Emilio is at UMC, being treated for various facial injuries including a broken nose.

“He said to me he wishes he would have died, and I asked him why, and he said so justice can be served and police would take it seriously,” said Gerardo.

The El Paso Times reports that police are treating the incident as a hate crime, because of the assailants’ use of anti-gay slurs. Anyone with information about this case is asked to call police at 915-832-4400 or Crime Stoppers of El Paso at 915-566-8477.

Last May, after a brutal hate crime outside another gay bar, LGBT advocates held a rally at the courthouse and said El Paso police hadn’t done enough to address violence in the area.

—  John Wright

President Obama issues memorandum on protecting LGBTs abroad

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Four days in advance of  Human Rights Day on Saturday, Dec. 10,  President Barack Obama today issued a presidential memorandum “to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons,” according to a statement just released by the White House press office.

The statement sent out by the White House includes these comments by the president:

“The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States commitment to promoting human rights.  I am deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world — whether it is passing laws that criminalize LGBT status, beating citizens simply for joining peaceful LGBT pride celebrations, or killing men, women, and children for their perceived sexual orientation.  That is why I declared before heads of state gathered at the United Nations, “no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.”  Under my Administration, agencies engaged abroad have already begun taking action to promote the fundamental human rights of LGBT persons everywhere.  Our deep commitment to advancing the human rights of all people is strengthened when we as the United States bring our tools to bear to vigorously advance this goal.”

The memorandum from Obama directs agencies to combat the criminalization of LGBT status or conduct abroad; protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers; leverage foreign assistance to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination; ensure swift and meaningful U.S. responses to human rights abuses of LGBT persons abroad; engage international organizations in the fight against LGBT discrimination, and report on progress.

I give the president credit for issuing the memorandum at the same time he’s gearing up for what will likely be a tough re-election campaign during which opponents will no doubt use his stance and actions on LGBT issues against him. But I still have to point out that we as LGBT people still face discrimination and inequality right here in the good old U.S.-of-A:

• Our marriages are legally recognized at the federal level and they aren’t recognized in the VAST majority of state and local jurisdictions. We want the Defense of Marriage Act repealed and local and state ordinances and constitutional amendments prohibiting recognition of our relationships need to be overturned.

• There is still no federal protection against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and/gender expression and gender identity. Congress needs to pass — the president needs to sign — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

• Even though there is now a federal hate crimes law that includes LGBT people, as well as similar laws at many state and local levels, those laws are not well enforced.

Anti-LGBT bullying remains a deadly problem in our schools and our workplaces and on the Internet. We’ve made progress in combating such bullying, but not nearly enough. Dedicate the resources necessary to address the issue effectively.

So let’s applaud our president for the steps he has — and is — taking. There’s no doubt Obama has been more open than any other president about addressing LGBT issues and we have seen great strides forward toward equality during his administration. But there’s a long way to go yet, and we need to make sure that the president — and all our elected officials — know they can’t just rest on their laurels.

—  admin

BREAKING: 3 suspects charged with hate crimes for brutal attack on gay man in Reno, Texas

Burke-Burnett

Burke Burnett

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Political Writer

Three suspects will face hate crimes charges in the brutal beating of a gay man who was stabbed repeatedly with a broken beer bottle and thrown onto a fire.

The victim, 26-year-old Burke Burnett, said he was notified by the Lamar County District Attorney’s Office on Thursday, Nov. 10 that his attackers will face hate crimes enhancements in the case. The Paris News reported on its website Thursday that a Lamar County grand jury indicted the suspects on three counts each of aggravated assault with hate crimes enhancements. Two of the three suspects will also face enhancements as repeat offenders.

Aggravated assault is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison, but the hate crimes enhancements would bump up the charges, making them first-degree felonies punishable by up to life in prison.

Lamar County District Attorney Gary Young couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

“I’m super-happy about today’s news,” Burnett told Dallas Voice. “That makes me feel really good. It was a quick indictment. I’m just pleased with how Gary Young, the DA, is handling it.”

Burnett suffered second-degree burns and needed more than 30 stitches following the attack at a private party in Reno, a small town just east of Paris and 100 miles northeast of Dallas, in the early morning hours of Oct. 30.

He said his three attackers yelled anti-gay slurs as they sucker-punched him in the eye, stabbed him in the back and arm with a broken beer bottle, and threw him onto a lit burn barrel.

The case made national news after graphic photos of Burnett’s injuries were posted on Dallas Voice’s website.

The three suspects — 31-year-old James Mitchell Lasater III of Paris, 25-year-old Micky Joe Smith of Brookston, and 33-year-old Daniel Shawn Martin of Paris — were arrested in the days after the attack by the Reno Police Department.

According to the Paris News, each is now charged with one count of aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury and two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Lasater and Smith were indicted as repeat offenders.

Burnett said he had the last of his stitches removed Thursday and there are no signs of permanent damage. He said the burns are “still ugly but they’re definitely healing up” and his black eye is barely noticeable anymore.

Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, said he was pleased to learn of the indictments.

“I certainly think this was a bias-motivated crime,” Smith said. “This is what our hate crimes act is for. It’s good from the standpoint that it could result in enhanced penalties. It’s equally if not more important that it sends a message that Lamar County is not going to tolerate bias crimes.”

Texas’ James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, passed in 2001, provides enhanced penalties for hate crimes motivated by a victim’s race, religion, color, sex, disability, sexual preference, age, or national origin. The act was signed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Burke Burnett on MSNBC

Burke Burnett, the gay man who was brutally beaten in an apparent hate crime in Reno, Texas, eight days ago, made his first appearance on national TV this morning, when he was interviewed by MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts. Watch it below.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Another hate crime reported in TX

In the second report of a violent anti-gay hate crime in Texas over the Halloween weekend, a lesbian college student says she was beaten by two men who kidnapped her at a party in San Antonio. Kristen Cooper, who attends the University of Texas at San Antonio, told KENS Channel 5 she was waiting for a ride outside an apartment complex in the northwest part of the city when the men punched her and drug her into their truck, before driving off and continuing to beat her.

The suspects eventually let Cooper go, but she was without a phone so she walked down the roadway until someone spotted her and called 911. Cooper said the only thing the suspects knew about her was that she’s gay, and they yelled anti-gay slurs during the attack. She suffered a concussion and whiplash, and her face is badly bruised and swollen.

Police are investigating the incident as an assault but said they can’t confirm it was a hate crime.

In the other incident, a gay man from Paris, Texas, said he was stabbed with a broken beer bottle and thrown onto a fire at a party in nearby Reno.

Watch Channel 5′s report on the San Antonio case below.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Gay beating victim speaks out

Best we can tell, The CW 33 on Wednesday night became the first TV station to air a report on the case of Burke Burnett, the 26-year-old from Paris who says he was the victim of a brutal anti-gay hate crime last weekend at a party in Reno, Texas. Burnett tells The CW’s Charles Bassett that he was inspired to come out as gay at 15 following the murder of Matthew Shepard. “It really, really scared me as a little boy to think that that’s what happens to gay people,” Burnett says. Bassett’s report notes that Reno police are being tight-lipped about their investigation but now have three suspects in custody charged with aggravated assault. “I haven’t prayed enough about that yet to know exactly what I want done to these people,” Burnett says, “but it’s not my job to decide what justice for these guys is.” Watch the video below, and look for a full story in Friday’s Dallas Voice.

—  John Wright