July 23, 2009 in Idaho

Idaho men convicted of hate crimes

By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE - Last year on the Fourth of July, three men, shouting racial slurs, ambushed, chased and beat a 24-year-old African-American man as he left a Wal-Mart in Nampa, Idaho. Now, two of the men have been convicted of hate crimes by a federal jury in Boise.

The third earlier pleaded guilty to one of the two charges and testified against the other two; the two, Michael Bullard, 22, of Middleton, Idaho, and Richard Armstrong, 24, of Nampa, face up to 20 years in federal prison for the attack.

“Driven by bigotry and prejudice, the defendants brutally assaulted a young man because of the color of his skin,” said Loretta King, acting U.S. Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “We are pleased that a jury of their peers has brought them to justice, as hate crimes have no place in America. The Civil Rights Division will continue to vigorously prosecute those who commit such acts of violence to the full extent the law allows.”

U.S. Attorney for Idaho Tom Moss said, “These convictions mean that racial crimes will not be tolerated, not in this country, not on any day. Idaho, like most other parts of this nation, has had inglorious moments in its past when people endured oppression and criminal acts merely because of their skin color, race, national origin, gender or religion. We are long past that time.”

The two defendants will be sentenced in October.

Evidence presented at their trial showed the two men and a third, James Whitewater, attacked their victim while a girlfriend of one of the men, Jennifer Hartpence, held their belongings and cheered them on. Hartpence initially was charged as a co-defendant, but charges against her were dropped before the case went to the jury.

The victim had gone to Wal-Mart to buy milk; it was just after midnight, as the Independence Day holiday began.

As he left the store, Bullard asked him, “What country do you think you’re in?” and flicked his cigarette at the man. The three attackers then chased their victim across the parking lot, tackled him, and then punched and kicked him until he was unconscious. The attackers and victimshad never met before.

Armstrong has a large swastika tattooed on his chest. His lawyer argued that it was a relic from time spent in a juvenile facility, and that Armstrong is a paranoid methamphetamine user, not a racist. Armstrong contended he tried to stop Bullard from committing the crime, but the jury didn’t buy it. Bullard had a juvenile record for spray-painting racially motivated graffiti and the slogan “white power.”

Witnesses testified that the three men laughed and bragged about the attack afterward.

The jury deliberated for four hours before reaching its verdicts Wednesday afternoon. Bullard and Armstrong each were convicted of two federal crimes: conspiring to violate the victim’s federally protected rights; and actually violating those rights with the racially motivated attack.

The Nampa Police Department initially handled the case, assisted by the FBI; it was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s office and the U.S. Attorney General’s Civil Rights Division.

Nampa Police Chief Bill Augsburger said, “The victim of these crimes was minding his own business, shopping in a store in our city which is open to the public, as all of us do, and have a right to do, every day. … Hate crimes are serious and will not be tolerated in this community.”

FBI Special Agent Timothy Fuhrman called it ironic that the men committed the hate crime on the Fourth of July. “In this day and age, law enforcement will not tolerate hate crimes,” he said. “The FBI is committed to investigating these incidents aggressively and without hesitation.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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