An 18 year old teenager was convicted of manslaughter Friday, in what the family is calling a ‘hate’ crime. The young man was sentenced to 27 years in prison.
In July, 2012, Johnny Lee Butts, a 61 year old black man was walking along a rural highway in Panola County, Mississippi, about 150 miles north of Jackson. Butts was hit from behind by a white Chevrolet Mont Carlo with such force that the windshield and steering wheel of the car collapsed inside the vehicle. Butts was thrown approximately 170 feet, one leg nearly severed. CNN reports that investigators estimate the speed of the car was between 55-70 miles per hour.
Matthew Darby pled guilty to the manslaughter charge earlier this week.
Butts’ family told CNN that they believed that Darby’s actions could be considered a hate crime because Butts was a black man. They questioned why the charges did not contain the more serious charge.
Darby’s lawyer said it was a “tragic accident” committed by an intoxicated young man. Darby admitted that he and the other white teenager in the vehicle at the time of the accident had been smoking marijuana and drinking vodka all night.
Butts’ family met with Darby for about three hours last week. Darby expressed remorse, asking for the family’s forgiveness. He never admitted to the incident being a ‘hate crime’.
“In the end, we were not convinced it wasn’t a hate crime,” the family’s attorney said. “But in the end, we were also not convinced we would get anything more desirable than 27 years.”
Darby was convicted of an additional charge of burglary. His sentence for the killing of Butts was 20 years, and he received an additional 7 for the burglary.
A hate crime, as defined by the FBI in a report by the National Coalition for the Homeless, is a “criminal offense committed against a person, property or society that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias.”
The federal government lists categories of individuals who fall under the label ‘hate crime’. They include African-Americans, homosexuals, and followers of certain religious beliefs. The homeless are not included in the category of ‘hate crimes’ at present.
FBI data released in the 13-year study show 122 homicides legally classified as hate crimes were committed against protected classes. During the same time span, National Coalition for the Homeless data shows 339 fatal attacks committed against the homeless, who are not a federally protected class.
During the 13 year study, 1289 attacks the NCH labeled as hate crimes occurred. In 2011 alone there were 105 attacks, resulting in 32 deaths. Crimes ranged from the encouragement of “bum fights” to rape, and beatings. The NCH believe that many more hate crimes occur, but go unreported.
Convictions of hate crimes carrier stiffer penalties under federal law.
Columnist-The Guardian Express