Arlington man sentenced to 14 months for hate crime arson at mosque

Henry Clay Glaspell

U.S. District Judge Terry R. Means this week sentenced Henry Clay Glaspell, 34, of Arlington, to 14 months in prison after Gaspell pleaded guilty to a hate crime charge in connection with an arson fire at the children’s playground at the Dar El-Eman Islamic Education Center in Arlington in July 2010, according to this report from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Means ordered Glaspell, who has been free on bond, to surrender to the Bureau of Prisons on Nov. 21.

Glaspell also admitted that he had stolen and damaged some of the mosque’s property, that he had thrown used cat litter at the mosque’s front door and that he had shouted racial and ethnic slurs at people at the mosque on several occasions. Glaspell said his actions were motivated by hatred for people of Arabic or Middle Eastern descent.

Texas legislators passed the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, which allows enhanced penalties to be assessed to those convicted of hate crimes. But while hate crimes are frequently reported and labeled as such by law enforcement, prosecutors rarely take hate crimes charges to court for fear that it would be too hard to prove a perpetrator’s bias-based intent to a jury.

—  admin

UPDATE: 1 of 3 men convicted in hate crime murder of James Byrd Jr. has been executed

UPDATE: The Beaumont Enterprise reports that the execution of white supremacist and convicted hate crime murderer Lawrence Russell Brewer has been carried out. The execution was scheduled for 6 p.m., and Brewer was pronounced dead at 6:21 p.m.

Lawrence Russell Brewer will die tonight in the execution chamber on death row in Huntsville, and I just can’t bring myself to feel sorry for him. Not even a little.

Lawrence Russell Brewer

Brewer is one of two men sentenced to die after being convicted of the June 7, 1998 dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in my hometown of Jasper, Texas. John William King also faces the death penalty, but he continues to appeal his sentence. A third man, Shawn Berry, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Most of you, I am sure, have heard of James Byrd Jr., and how King, Brewer and Berry offered him a ride one night, then beat him up, chained him by his ankles to the bumper of a pickup truck and dragged him down a back road until his body hit a culvert and was torn apart. A pathologist testified that Byrd was alive when he hit the culvert.

King, Brewer and Berry were arrested within a couple of days. The story that came out in the weeks and months afterward was that Brewer and King met in prison where they both joined a white supremacist group, a splinter of the KKK called the Confederate Knights of America. King had lived in Jasper, and when the two men got out of prison, they went back to Jasper, where King and Berry became friends.

Evidence also indicated that the men — at least, King and Brewer — were intent on starting a race war. So they set out to commit as horrific a crime as possible, expecting that to be the spark that set off a blaze of racial hatred. Luckily, that didn’t happen, although not for lack of trying by outsiders on both sides — the KKK and the Black Panthers — who flocked to Jasper during King’s trial there. Brewer’s trial was moved to Bryan.

—  admin

Equality Texas: Austin murders were hate crime

Jose Alfonso Aviles

When a man fatally shot his daughter’s girlfriend and the girlfriend’s mother in Austin on Monday, there’s no doubt it was an anti-gay hate crime, according to Equality Texas.

“Two women have been murdered because one of them was a lesbian,” the statewide LGBT advocacy group said in a statement about the murders today. “Equality Texas can emphatically state that these homicides were a hate crime.”

As we reported Tuesday night, 45-year-old Jose Alfonso Aviles is charged with capital murder for fatally shooting 24-year-old Norma Hurtado and her mother, 57-year-old Maria Hurtado, on Monday night. According to authorities, Aviles committed the murders because he was angry that his daughter was in a lesbian relationship with Norma Hurtado.

Although the incident appears to have been an anti-gay hate crime, Equality Texas says it can’t be prosecuted as one. That’s because under Texas’ hate crimes statute, there is no penalty enhancement available to prosecutors since the charges are already capital felonies. From the group’s statement:

Regardless of how this case is prosecuted, it is imperative that we acknowledge that these murders were a bias-motivated hate crime. It is important to acknowledge that the City of Austin and Travis County, in collaboration with the Anti-Defamation League, convened a Hate Crimes Task Force in December, 2010.  Equality Texas is a working member of this Task Force, which seeks to create a forum that fosters open dialogue about hate and discrimination and strengthens the bonds of our community through prevention, response and restoration.

Regardless of how this case is prosecuted, it is important that we acknowledge pending legislation that would seek to address the barriers to prosecution of hate crimes under the Texas James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act. HB 172 by State Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth would require the Texas Attorney General to conduct a study to examine the success of our Hate Crimes Act and identify barriers to the effective use of, and prosecution under, the Act.  HB 172 is pending in the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence.

Norma Hurtado

Also, the Austin American-Statesman has a follow-up today that provides more details about the murders, including an answer to one of our biggest questions: How old was the suspect’s daughter? According to the Statesman, she had just turned 18. Note that the age of consent in Texas is 17. From the Statesman:

The daughter told police that she and Norma Hurtado had been involved in a lesbian relationship, which her father did not approve of, and that there had been disturbances between Aviles and Norma Hurtado, according to an arrest affidavit. An online records search for those incidents turned up a report of a sexual assault in September and a family disturbance in October; however, police did not release details of the incidents.

The American-Statesman is not identifying the daughter.

The affidavit said a witness told police that the daughter’s parents would send threatening text messages to Norma Hurtado. In one message, Aviles threatened to kill Hurtado and her mother, the document says.

“She stated that (the girlfriend’s) parents have sent text messages threatening Norma because of this relationship,” the witness, a friend of Norma Hurtado’s, told police. About a month ago, the witness “saw a text message from (Aviles) to Norma in which (he) threatened to kill both Norma and her mother,” police said.

Watch the Statesman’s footage of the police press conference about the case below below:

—  John Wright

References to sexual orientation, gender identity to be removed from TX anti-bullying bills

Chuck-Smith
Chuck Smith

Specific references to LGBT youth will be removed from two anti-bullying bills backed by Equality Texas to improve their chances of passage and de-politicize the issue, Instant Tea has learned.

One of the bills, House Bill 224 by State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, is scheduled for a committee hearing Tuesday.

Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, said Monday that a substitute for HB 224 will be introduced during the hearing that removes all enumerated categories — including sexual orientation — from a provision requiring school districts to report incidents of bullying to the state.

Instead, the substitute bill will direct the Texas education commissioner to specify what types of bullying must be reported. Smith said enumerated categories will also be removed from a companion bill in the Senate, SB 242 by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. Davis’ bill as originally drafted included both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

“If they were all there it likely wouldn’t pass,” Smith said, referring to the enumerated categories. “At the end of the day, the reporting part is not important compared to the rest of the guts of the bill.”

HB 224 and SB 242 would establish uniform definitions for bullying and cyberbullying in the state education code, and require districts to create training programs for students, parents, staff and volunteers. The bills would also allow officials to transfer bullies to different classes or campuses than their victims.

Strama’s HB 224 is scheduled for a hearing at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the House public education committee. It’s one of three bills backed by Equality Texas scheduled for committee hearings Tuesday.

HB 172, by Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, would launch a study on the effectiveness of the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act. HB 172 is scheduled for a hearing at 10:30 a.m. in the House criminal jurisprudence committee.

HB 130, by Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, would incorporate an anti-bullying hotline into the state’s existing Texas Abuse/Neglect Hotline. HB 130 is scheduled for a hearing at 2 p.m. in the House human services committee. 

Smith said it’s unlikely that any of the bills will be voted on Tuesday. You can watch committee hearings live on the Legislature’s website. For more information on Equality Texas’ legislative agenda, go here. To register for the group’s lobby day on Monday, March 7, go here.

UPDATE: The full text of the substitute bill is here. Smith also had this to say on Facebook:

“I would have preferred a headline like, ‘House Public Ed Committee to hear landmark anti-bullying bill that will protect every child based upon any actual or perceived personal characteristics, behavior, or belief.’ That’s what’s IN the bill and EVERY child will be protected. The enumerated references were removed from reporting guidelines, not who is covered by the bill.”

—  John Wright

Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert: Homosexuality is adultery in the Ten Commandments

Discussing “don’t ask don’t tell” on the Family Research Council’s Washington Watch Weekly radio program on Friday, Congressman Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, offered his response to those who point out that the Bible — if you read it closely and all — doesn’t really appear to condemn homosexuality per se:

“Some people say, ‘Where is homosexuality in violation of the Ten Commandments?’ Well, it’s adultery. It’s sexual relations outside of marriage, a man and a woman. Of course there are other verses that reference these specific acts, men lusting after men, etc., but specifically for the military, when anyone, whether they’re homosexual or heterosexual, cannot control their hormones to the point that they are a distraction to the good order and discipline of the military, then they need to be removed from the military.”

Gohmert goes on to agree that if DADT is repealed, the military would have to change its policies to allow “heterosexual immorality.”

“Well of course it would,” he says. “Well, I say of course it would. You would think that. But of course we’ve already shown through Congress that homosexuality deserves a more precious and privileged position just by some of the laws that we’ve passed.”

Gohmert is likely referring to the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, which he suggested last year could lead to the legalization of things like pedophilia, necrophilia and bestiality.

—  John Wright

Early voting begins today for midterm elections, with plenty at stake for the LGBT community

Many LGBT advocates and activists were thrilled two years ago when Barack Obama — a man who said he supported legal federal recognition of same-sex civil unions, passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” and who pledged to be a “fierce advocate” for the LGBT community — was elected president.

Since President Obama was taking office at a time when the Democratic Party — which tends to be, overall, more progressive on LGBT issues — controlled both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate, LGBT advocates were looking forward to seeing big progress very quickly. And in fact, Obama has included a number of LGBT and LGBT-supportive individiuals in his administration. He did issue an executive order that granted partner benefits to LGBT federal employees. He did sign into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Law (one of the top priority issues on the LGBT community’s list for several years).

But many of those same activists who were so tickled to see Obama elected have begun losing faith that the president has a real commitment to LGBT equality. ENDA continues to languish. Repeal of DADT went down in flames in the Senate and lesbian and gay servicemembers continue to be discharged. And the Department of Justice, under the Obama administration, has continued to appeal court rulings favorable to the LGBT community on issues like DADT and the Defense of Marriage Act.

Perhaps, many feel, the “fierce advocate” isn’t so fiercely on our side, after all. And yet, would a Republican-controlled Congress make it any easier to get our issues fairly addressed? Democrats warn that not only would we make no further progress with the Republicans in charge, we might also lose some of advances we have made so far.

However you feel about it, the midterm elections next month will undoubtedly have a huge impact on the future of efforts like passage of ENDA and DADT. Many pundits expect the Republicans to win control of at least the House of Representatives, if not both the House AND the Senate.

And that’s not even taking into account the importance of races from the county level on up to the state level, where Republican incumbent Rick Perry is fighting a hard battle against Democratic challenger Bill White in the race for Texas governor. And what about the Texas Legislature? Will the LGBT community have enough allies there to pass a safe schools bill that would address anti-gay bullying, or to at least fend off recurring efforts to keep same-sex couples from adopting or being foster parents?

Those are just a few of the races that will be determined in this election, and all of them impact our community in some way. And your vote can make the difference when it comes to who will represent you in county, state and federal government.

Election Day isn’t until Nov. 2. But early voting starts today. Dallas Morning News reported today that Dallas County residents appear to be voting at a higher pace than the last midterm elections four years ago, and that Dallas County Elections Administrator Bruce Sherbet is predicting an overall turnout of about 40 percent this year.

So why not go on and vote now and avoid the Election Day rush?

Do you need to know where to go to early vote? Are you wondering which precinct or district you are in? Do you know if your voter’s registration is still valid? There are online sites that can help.

If you live in Dallas County, go here for information on early voting sites and hours and for information about who represents you, specifically, at the county, state and federal levels. That same information is available for Tarrant County residents here. The state of Texas also has a site with information for voters, and you can find it here.

And if you don’t live in Dallas or Tarrant counties, just do a search online for your county’s elections site.

Remember, our government is supposed to be “of the people, by the people and for the people.” But if you want your voice to count, then you have to vote.

—  admin

Shaking off those nasty midterm blues

It’s tempting to echo the ‘throw them out’ refrain, but compare the candidates and the political parties carefully, then go out and make your voice heard by voting

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White

I suspect a lot of people right now are experiencing the same kind of feelings my grandfather used to have around election time: One of his favorite phrases was, “Throw the bastards out.”

Though it may make for a colorful epithet, it was not the way he voted. He once told me that if his hand ever touched the lever on the voting machine marked “Republican,” it would burn his fingers.

Though he was a feisty and almost illiterate blacksmith from Tennessee, he followed politics and he was a Roosevelt Democrat through-and-through.

That brings me back to the here and now and the current election, when a lot of new voters are frustrated by what they perceive as the lack of change since the last election.

I will admit I, too, am frustrated. I want things to change faster and to do that I agree that we need to throw a few folks out.

But I am selective in my tossing. I know that midterms are every bit as important as the years when the presidency is in play, and though they are not nearly as sexy, they deserve our attention.

I get a lot of questions from friends and acquaintances this time of year as well, and because of that I prepared a short list of “talking points,” just to remind myself — and them — what is at stake.

• “How come things haven’t changed?”

They have, and they can continue to change if we concentrate on keeping and increasing the Democratic majority in Congress.

For example, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed during the last congressional session and signed into law by President Obama. Most importantly, the bill included crimes motivated by the victims “gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.”

That is a big step. Additionally, the president signed a bill giving benefits to same-sex spouses of federal employees.

• “Why should I bother to vote for local offices like judges?”

National politics is sexy, but the real actions that affect your life happen at the local level.

For example District Judge Ernest White presided over the gay-bashing trial of Bobby Singleton. He was one of two men who beat and disfigured Jimmie Dean in 2008 here in Oak Lawn.

Singleton was sentenced to 75 years in prison. Though the jury handed down the sentence, the judge has an influence over the trial.

Wouldn’t you want a sympathetic judge on the bench if you were the victim?

• “Are there any LGBT people running for local office?”

You betcha! Gary Fitsimmons, Dallas County district clerk, is seeking re-election. Not only has he been an outstanding public official for all of the county, his office was first in the county to add sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policies. Fitzsimmons recently added gender identity to the policy as well.

• “Why is Bill White a better choice than Rick Perry?”

Here is a quote from Gov. Perry: “Would you rather live in a state like this, or in a state where a man can marry a man?”

He was addressing a group about jobs creation, but his subtext is clear: “If LGBT people don’t like it here, leave.”

Additionally, who walked with us down Cedar Springs for the Alan Ross Freedom Parade, Bill White or Rick Perry? Bill White.

• “What about ENDA, DOMA and DADT?”

It’s been only two years since the landslide victory for Democratic lawmakers; it took eight years of the disastrous Bush administration policies and six years with the Republicans in control of both houses of Congress to get us where we are today.

Yes, I am impatient as well, but we need to keep Democratic control over the Congress and elect even more progressive candidates to move the vital issues forward.

• “Both parties are the same; it’s all politics anyway.”

Take a look at the state party platforms and say that again.

The Republican platform is filled with vehement language demonizing LGBT Texans, like this plum: “We believe that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases. … Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable ‘alternative’ lifestyle in our public education and policy, nor should ‘family’ be redefined to include homosexual couples.”
It is tempting to use my grandfather’s line, and just throw up my hands and say, “Throw all the bastards out.”

But once I get over my immediate frustration and look at the reality of where we are and where we have come from, I know things are getting better for LGBT folk in this country and this state.

If we fail to show up at the polls and support our allies, we will only hurt ourselves. It wouldn’t take much to turn back the clock, and rest assured the candidates who stand against us want to do just that.

Another bit of wisdom I gleaned from my grandfather was this: “If you are feeling down in the mouth, it’s probably because you’ve been standing around with it open. Now shut your trap and get off your rump and go out and do something!”

The best cure for the midterm blues is doing something — like voting!

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

AG candidates polar opposites on gay issues

Radnofsky pledges to stand for equality; incumbent Abbott has record of fighting LGBT rights

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

OPPOSITE NUMBER  |  Democratic candidate for Texas attorney general Barbara Radnofsky supports marriage equality for same-sex couples, while Republican incumbent Greg Abbott has spoken against same-sex marriage. He also recently intervened to appeal a trial court ruling granting a same-sex couple a divorce.
OPPOSITE NUMBER | Democratic candidate for Texas attorney general Barbara Radnofsky supports marriage equality for same-sex couples, while Republican incumbent Greg Abbott has spoken against same-sex marriage. He also recently intervened to appeal a trial court ruling granting a same-sex couple a divorce.

Possibly no race in Texas this election cycle is as clear-cut about where the candidates stand on LGBT issues as is the attorney general’s race.

Neither Attorney General Greg Abbott nor anyone from his campaign returned calls seeking comment for this story. But Dallas County Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Neerman agrees that the choice in this race is clear for those who vote primarily on LGBT issues. Still, he suggested looking at Attorney General Greg Abbott’s entire record.

Democratic challenger Barbara Ann Radnofsky stands by her positions on equality.

“I try to follow the Golden Rule,” Radnofsky said.

In other races, candidates run from the issue. Radnofsky was happy to talk about where she stands.

Radnofsky said she supports employment nondiscrimination legislation and she uses language on her website that is transgender-inclusive.
She said she would like to add gender identity and expression to the James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act, the Texas penalty enhancement law that

applies to hate crimes committed in Texas.

Radnofsky said she would also like to see the legislature pass a law prohibiting discrimination against or harassment of LGBT students and teachers in Texas public schools.

Radnofsky campaign spokeswoman Katie Floyd said the candidate taught mediation for 15 years.

Radnofsky addressed another threat to gay and lesbian families that makes its way into legislative committees each session. She said that taking the best interests of the child into account, she supports guaranteeing foster and adoptive parenting rights to LGBT parents.

She would also like to provide domestic partner benefits to state employees and opposes any legislation that would prohibit private employers from offering those benefits.

On her website, Radnofsky also mentions supporting the Americans With Disabilities Act. While that doesn’t seem controversial, the Texas Republican Party platform calls for gays and lesbians to be excluded from protections guaranteed under the ADA.

Greg Abbott recently won an appeal of the Dallas same-sex divorce case. In enforcing the anti-marriage amendment passed in Texas in 2005, he appealed a lower court ruling that would have granted a divorce to a gay couple married in Massachusetts.

Abbott is equally clear on his website about his stand on marriage equality for gays and lesbians.

“Texas law defines marriage as an institution between one man and one woman,” his website claims. “Attorney General Abbott has fought efforts to undermine Texas’ law and the basic family structure in our state. He understands that traditional marriage is the cornerstone for a strong and stable family.”

But Abbott goes further defending opposite-sex marriage by claiming studies support his stand without citing any of those studies.

“A wealth of empirical data demonstrates the unmatched potency of the family to combat social ills, foster strong communities, and promote happier, healthier lives,” he claims in his official position statement.

Radnofsky, on the other hand, agrees with the ruling from the lower court in the same-sex divorce case.

“The Attorney General shouldn’t intervene in the non-violent, orderly wind-down of a relationship,” she said. “He should leave divorce orders to the proper court decision-making, and get back to work on the problems facing our state.

“Orderly divorce and family law allows the peaceful separation of the two disputants, property disposition, payment of taxes and debt, alimony, child support and custody,” Radnofsky said. “That’s the way civilized society is supposed to function. Ignoring or voiding an out-of-state marriage, suggested by the AG, is not a solution to these many issues and the need for courts to supervise peaceful, orderly solutions.”

Abbott lists his success in collecting more than $13 billion in child support payments as his top issue.

“He’s very strong on going after deadbeat fathers for child support,” Neerman said. “He fights for the interests of children.”

Neerman also mentioned Abbott’s record on prosecution of white-collar fraud and online data protection.

“He’s also been strong on fighting Internet predators,” Neerman said.

He mentioned a number of areas where Abbott has protected rights of Texans. On behalf of 31 states, Abbott fought the District of Columbia’s handgun law before the Supreme Court and won.

But on LGBT issues, he has worked against equality.

Stonewall Democrats of Dallas President Erin Moore said, “Abbott’s been a henchman for Republicans for years.”

Moore called this one of the most important statewide races as far as LGBT rights are concerned.

“It’s one of the ones we’re keeping the keenest eye on,” she said. “He’s been malicious in his prosecution of LGBT rights. He’s got to go.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 10, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

Letter criticizes FBI’s handling of Terlingua attack

Crime victim’s advocate says agents ‘re-victimized’ victim of anti-gay kidnapping, rape in South Texas

Daniel Phillip Martinez

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

TERLINGUA, Brewster County — During one of the FBI’s first investigations under a new federal hate crimes law that protects LGBT people, agents are accused of “re-victimizing” the victim by insinuating that he was to blame for his own kidnapping and rape.

The 18-year-old male victim, whom sources describe as bisexual, was kidnapped in December by two men at a bar in Terlingua Ghost Town, a tourist destination near Big Bend National Park and the Texas-Mexico border.

The attackers took the victim to a remote location, set fire to his vehicle and repeatedly sexually assaulted him before he managed to escape, crossing 3 miles of harsh desert terrain on foot to get help.

Kristapher Dale Buchanan, 27, and Daniel Phillip Martinez, 46, were arrested and charged with aggravated sexual assault, aggravated robbery, aggravated kidnapping and arson. They remain in jail awaiting trial.

A week after the Dec. 6 incident, an FBI agent in Midland confirmed to Dallas Voice that his office was investigating it as a possible hate crime under the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, passed in October.

Then, in February, a local crime victim’s advocate sent a letter to the FBI’s Midland office, complaining about agents’ conduct during interviews with the victim.

The crime victim’s advocate, an employee of a nonprofit social services agency, has worked closely with the victim throughout the ordeal. He spoke about the case and provided a copy of the letter to Dallas Voice on the condition of anonymity.

“My client indicated that your agent suggested that the victim must have misled people, resulting in a violent sexual assault,” the victim’s advocate wrote to the FBI, adding that “the wearing of short pants, any sort of suggestive looks, or having some drinks” aren’t excuses for sexual assault.

“There is no excuse for sexual assault,” the victim’s advocate wrote to the FBI in the letter dated Feb. 18. “Agents must not re-victimize an already traumatized victim of a sexual assault, by allowing any sort of prejudices to influence the investigation. … A poorly handled investigation can ruin years of community trust that your agency works extremely hard to instill in the public, and that makes your job and mine that much harder the next time someone cries out for help.”

Matt Espenshade, senior supervisory resident agent in the FBI’s Midland office, said in response to the letter, he initiated an internal investigation, interviewing the agents involved and forwarding his findings to superiors. Espenshade said he would check on the status of the internal investigation and provide more information, but he hadn’t done so by press time.

Espenshade said he doesn’t believe the agents said or did anything inappropriate during two separate interviews with the victim. He declined to discuss the scope of the interviews or findings of the hate crime investigation in detail.

“I feel that we conducted ourselves in a very appropriate manner,” Espenshade said. “I’m empathetic to the victim. If that’s the way he walked out of there feeling, then I’m sorry. But I still stand by [my position that] the conduct of the agents during the course of the investigation was professional and necessary for the pursuit of the truth.”

The victim, who reportedly is now staying in Midland, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

The FBI has concluded its hate crime investigation and turned over its findings to the Department of Justice, which will decide whether to pursue federal charges, Espenshade said.

A spokeswoman for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division said, “The Department of Justice is monitoring the local investigation and prosecution, and I have no further comment.”

The victim’s advocate, along with two gay clergy members who recently visited the area, all said they believe the victim was targeted because of his actual or perceived sexual orientation.

The Rev. Stephen Sprinkle, a Dallas resident and faculty member at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, traveled to Terlingua earlier this month with the Rev. Harry Knox, director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith Program.

“I’m convinced it’s a hate crime,” said Sprinkle, who’s also spoken by phone with victim on more than one occasion. “He said they were shouting anti-gay epithets while they were torturing him. I think he was targeted because he was perceived as weak and vulnerable.”

Sprinkle described the victim’s sexual orientation as “ambiguous,” but Knox noted that under the law, it doesn’t matter.

“What matters was that the perception was there that he was different, and because of the difference, he was made a victim, so it’s certainly a hate crime,” Knox said.

Sprinkle and Knox, who spent three days in the area, said they’re satisfied that local authorities have investigated the case thoroughly and intend to prosecute it vigorously.

Brewster County District Attorney Jesse Gonzales Jr. couldn’t be reached for comment. It’s unlikely that the case will be prosecuted as a hate crime under state law because there is no penalty enhancement available if the offense is already a first-degree felony.

Knox and Sprinkle also said they were impressed with the level of support for the victim among residents of Brewster County, regardless of his sexual orientation.

Knox described the crime victim’s advocate who’s been helping the young man as a “hero.” And he said the advocate’s complaint against the FBI calls attention to the need for training.

“HRC is a part of a process whereby people are being trained around the country to the new law, which gives us yet another opportunity to sensitize people to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity,” Knox said. “This case presents an opportunity for us to make the case to the federal government for why that training really has to be robust.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 23, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

House approves bill containing hate crimes law

The U.S. House of Representatives has just approved the conference report for the FY 2010 Defense Authorization bill — which includes a federal hate crimes bill recently renamed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Act3 as an amendment — by a vote of 281-146. The Senate is expected to approve the conference report by early next week.

Once the conference report has Senate approval, it will go to President Obama, who has pledged to sign it into law.

The House vote moves the federal hate crimes bill closer than ever before to becoming law.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act gives the Justice Department the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence where the perpetrator has selected the victim because of the person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. It provides the Justice Department with the ability to aid state and local jurisdictions either by lending assistance or, where local authorities are unwilling or unable, by taking the lead in investigations and prosecutions of violent crime resulting in death or serious bodily injury that were motivated by bias. It also makes grants available to state and local communities to combat violent crimes committed by juveniles, train law enforcement officers, or to assist in state and local investigations and prosecutions of bias motivated crimes.

—  admin