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

BREAKING: 2 arrested in gay man’s beating

James Mitchell Laster, left, and Daniel Martin (Lamar County Sheriff's Department)

Two men have been arrested in connection with the brutal assault of a gay man early Sunday in Reno, Texas — which the victim and his friends say was a hate crime.

Reno Police Chief Jeff W. Sugg announced in a two-sentence statement this morning that Daniel Martin, 33, and James “Tray” Mitchell Laster III, 31, have been arrested in the beating of 26-year-old Burke Burnett.

Burke Burnett

Burnett said he was stabbed at least twice with a broken beer bottle and thrown onto a fire at a private party early Sunday, by up to four men who yelled gay slurs during the attack. Burnett needed more than 30 stitches to close stab wounds to his back and forearm, as well as a cut above his left eye from being sucker-punched at the start of the attack. He also suffered second-degree burns from being thrown onto a lit burn barrel.

Martin and Laster were arrested late Tuesday. Each is charged with one count of aggravated assault with a a deadly weapon, and one count of aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury —  second-degree felonies punishable by up to 20 years in prison. According to Sugg’s statement, the investigation is ongoing.

Reno police spokeswoman Alicia Myrick said it will be up the Lamar County District Attorney’s Office to determine whether the case is prosecuted as a hate crime.

“That’s not our decision,” Myrick said.

More to come …

—  John Wright

Gay man stabbed with broken beer bottle, thrown onto fire in apparent hate crime in Reno, TX

Burke Burnett says he was punched in the eye, stabbed with a broken beer bottle and thrown onto a lit burn barrel early Sunday at a party in Reno, Texas. View more photos of Burnett's injuries below.

UPDATE: Three suspects have been arrested in connection with this crime. Read more here.

A 26-year-old gay man says he was the victim of a brutal hate crime early Sunday in Reno, Texas — a small town just east of Paris and about 100 miles northeast of Dallas.

Burke Burnett said he was at a private party at about 1 a.m. when four men suddenly attacked him, stabbing him at least twice with a broken beer bottle before throwing him onto a fire. His attackers yelled things like “pussy-ass faggot,” “gay bitch” and “cock-sucking punk,” Burnett said.

Burnett said it took 30 stitches to close stab wounds to his back and forearm, as well as a cut above his left eye. He also sustained second-degree burns and severe bruises.

“They knew I was gay,” Burnett said Monday. “I’m convinced they were trying to kill me.”

Jeff Sugg, interim chief of the Reno Police Department, released a statement Monday afternoon saying: “The Reno Police Department is currently investigating an aggravated assault that took place last weekend. The investigation is ongoing and additional information will be provided when available.”

Reno police officials declined to further discuss their investigation.

Burnett said the officer investigating the case told him the attack will be classified as a hate crime. But Burnett said his attackers, whose identities are known, remain at large, and the officer told him it could be two weeks before they’re arrested.

“I’m scared for my life,” Burnett said, adding that he’s staying with a family friend. “I’m scared to go home. These guys have nothing to lose.”

—  John Wright