In 2013, a gay man was standing on the sidewalk in Washington, D.C., when siblings Christopher and Christina Lucas led a group of men toward him. They then attacked the man, knocking him onto the sidewalk, repeatedly punching and stomping on him while shouting homophobic slurs. Christina Lucas then leaned over the man with a sharp object and slashed his face, calling him a “faggot motherfucker.” The man suffered facial fractures, scarring, and possible long-term brain injury.
A jury found the Lucases guilty of a hate crime. Under D.C. law, they should each have received between four and 15 years in prison. D.C. Superior Court Judge Yvonne Williams initially sentenced both to four years, suspending all but one. In July, however, she altered the sentences, giving Christopher one year and Christina only six months.
Williams called a hearing to explain her decision, noting that she has a reputation at the courthouse for “telling it like it is.” As the Washington Blade reports, the judge then went off in a bizarre, rambling tangent to justify her action:
The conduct done here by the defendants is reprehensible, right? They’re part of a group of people that jumped another individual. However, in the aggravated assaults while armed that I have seen over my life, when I look at the severity of the injuries, you know, people are left in wheelchairs. People are disfigured. People have broken bones. … People are left with sort of lifelong disfigurements. There were no long-term injuries. There were no broken bones, [and] he’s obviously not in a wheelchair.
William then dismissed the notion that the Lucases’ sentences should be enhanced due to the bias behind their crime—though the jury found that the assault was, indeed, a hate crime:
He, like all victims of crime, sort of, is dealing with the mental frustration of having been jumped. … All victims of crime, violent crime, you know, have to deal with that. … Now I don’t want anybody to think that I’m somehow dismissing the findings that there was a hate crime, but I’ll tell you and I’ll be fully honest. You know, there’s hate crime, from my perspective, and there’s hate crime. So when I think of hate crime, I include hate crime with the idea of domestic terrorism, right? That’s what I think it is.
She then explained what she envisioned as a real hate crime:
The most famous homosexual killing is the one – was it in Utah? Matthew – there’s a law named after him. I forgot his name. Matthew – I can’t think of it. But the man, the man was beaten to near death only because he was gay. Those people didn’t know him.
The judge also questioned whether Christina Lucas—who is a lesbian—could have committed a true hate crime against a gay man. She implied that when a lesbian calls a gay man a “faggot motherfucker,” she doesn’t mean it hatefully:
Obviously, in this context, nothing feels more comfortable because it’s a violent attack. But I’m just saying, linguistically, I don’t know where we are linguistically on this issue. And so, we’re here at the hate crime point. And so I will admit that it’s hard for me to grasp how one gay person commits a hate crime against another. … So do I have concerns with Ms. Lucas going forward, that she’s going to be terrorizing the community and going after gay people? No. I don’t have that concern.
For their part, the Lucases display no remorse, and maintain that their slur-filled attack wasn’t a hate crime.
Williams’ decision is troubling for a number of reasons. First, she is factually incorrect: The victim did suffer severe injuries, possibly including long-term brain damage. Second, Williams essentially nullified the jury’s conviction, deciding that the jury’s verdict—as well as the definition of a hate crime under D.C. law—just wasn’t right. Third, the judge altered the sentence without notifying prosecutors or even giving them a chance to object.
In her strange disquisition, Williams said she wasn’t concerned the key perpetrator would “be terrorizing the community and going after gay people.” That may be true. But Williams herself has already terrified Washington’s gay community by sending them a clear message: You won’t find justice in my courtroom.