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Guilty verdict in hate crimes

FRIDAY, JULY 24, 2009

Two defendants convicted of assaulting black man

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 men; 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 two defendants will be sentenced in October.

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, according to court documents. 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 the victim left the store, Bullard asked him, “What country do you think you’re in?” and flicked his cigarette at the man, according to court documents. 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 victim had 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 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,” said Nampa Police Chief Bill Augsburger. “Hate crimes are serious and will not be tolerated in this community.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tags: hate crime

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