Houston, TX – Three men have been convicted of hate crimes by a Houston federal jury after they beat a random black man at a downtown bus stop last year. A fourth man, 49-year-old Joseph Staggs, saw his case dismissed in return for testifying against the others.
Charles Cannon, 26, Michael McLaughlin, 40, and Brian Kerstetter, 32 are the first people in Houston to be convicted under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, an act of Congress passed in 2009 that expanded existing United States federal hate crime laws.
The men beat Yondell Johnson as he stood waiting for a bus after spending the day with his daughter. One of the men asked Jackson for the time before a racial slur was used and they began beating him. After he was pulled to the ground, he was repeatedly kicked in the face and had his head stomped. When the men were arrested, McLaughlin and Cannon were heard yelling racial slurs at black officers.
The men claimed to be white supremacists and told police they were in the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang. Two of the men stated they were “Peckerwoods” on their Facebook pages. In prison slang, a Peckerwood is someone loosely affiliated with a white prison gang. All three men have a lengthy criminal history including charges of felony burglary, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and domestic violence.
Their original charges of misdemeanor assault carried little in way of jail-time if convicted, but their conviction under the federal act means they are looking at possible a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
The case was originally going to be handled by the Harris County DA’s office, but it was decided to let the Washington office of the Department of Justice step in and try the men under the federal act. This is probably because an earlier attempt by the DA to try three white men with hate crimes fell through when that grand jury balked at the charges. The men were accused of beating a black ice cream vendor while calling him a racial slur.
This case would have proven even more difficult as Channon’s wife, who participated in crimes with her husband in the past, is Hispanic. He also has biracial children and his sister is married to an African-American. Kerstetter’s ex-girlfriend is Hispanic and both men seem to have numerous Hispanic friends. Cannon’s attorney said he and the other men’s defense attorneys are considering appealing the convictions. He does not believe Channon is a white supremacist despite the tattoos and gang affiliations that state otherwise.
For those of you who are unaware of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, it’s an act of congress that was passed on October 22, 2009 and signed by Barack Obama. This act was conceived after the murders of Matthew Shepard, who was killed because he was gay, and James Byrd Jr., a black man murdered by three white supremacists in Jasper, Texas. The men dragged Byrd behind a pick-up-truck after wrapping chains around his ankles. Byrd was pulled for three miles and remained conscious until his right arm and head were severed. His torso was dumped in front of an African American cemetery.Tags: Assault, Brian Kerstetter, Charles Cannon, Crime, Hate Crime, Michael McLaughlin, Texas