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9th Circuit court rejects ‘absurd’ Idaho hate crime appeal

Here’s a news item from the AP:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal court has rejected an appeal from an Idaho man who was convicted of a hate crime for beating a black man outside a Nampa Wal-Mart. In his appeal, Richard C. Armstrong said his sentence was too harsh because he said he wasn’t guilty of selecting a victim on the basis of race. Rather, Armstrong contended, his co-defendant is the person who actually selected their victim. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel agreed with a lower court judge who said Armstrong’s argument was absurd. Armstrong was sentenced last fall to 3 years and 10 months in prison for the 2008 attack, based on federal sentencing guidelines that allowed the judge to give additional time because he found Armstrong lied during the trial and the assault had a hate crime motivation. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.


Circuit court rejects Idaho hate crime appeal
By REBECCA BOONE, Associated Press Writer

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal appeals court has rejected an appeal from an Idaho man who was convicted of a hate crime for beating a black man outside a Nampa Wal-Mart.

Richard C. Armstrong argued his sentence was too harsh because he said he wasn’t guilty of selecting a victim on the basis of race. Rather, Armstrong contended, his co-defendant was the person who selected their victim. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court judge, who said Armstrong’s argument was absurd.

Armstrong was sentenced last fall to three years and 10 months in prison for the attack. The length of his term was based on federal sentencing guidelines that allowed the judge to give additional time because Armstrong lied during the trial and because the assault had a hate-crime motivation.

His co-defendant, Michael Bullard, was sentenced to four years and three months.

Two others — Jennifer Hartpence and James D. Whitewater — also were initially charged in the crime. But the charges against Hartpence were dismissed before the case went to the jury last year. And Whitewater pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate rights before the case went to trial. He was sentenced to a year and a half in prison.

Federal prosecutors said the four, who are all white, plotted an attack against a 24-year-old they encountered in the aisles of a Wal-Mart in the very early hours of the Fourth of July, 2008.

Raylen Smith had gone to the store to buy milk for his cereal. Prosecutors said the group chased and tackled Smith in the parking lot while shouting racial slurs, and then Bullard and Armstrong beat him until he was unconscious.

Although Armstrong has several swastika tattoos and court records reference a recorded interview between Armstrong and police in which he admits directing racial slurs at Smith, Armstrong testified at his trial that there was no racial motivation for the attack and he denied using any racial slurs that night.

Still, jurors found both Armstrong and Bullard guilty, and Armstrong was sentenced to 46 months in prison.

Armstrong told the appellate court there was no finding by the jury that he selected Smith as the victim. Instead, Armstrong said, he only joined in a crime already in progress. He also denied committing perjury during the trial, saying his testimony was part of a general denial of guilt.

That misses the point of the federal sentencing guidelines that call for sentencing enhancements for those who commit hate crimes, Judge Marsha s. Berzon wrote for the three-judge 9th Circuit panel.

“It does not matter whether Armstrong was the first to select Smith as a victim because of his race; it is enough that Armstrong too ‘selected’ Smith as the victim of his actions for that reason, by using force to injure, threaten, or intimidate Smith merely because of his race,” Berzon wrote.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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