After Texas Charges Only Misdemeanors, Feds Win Felony Case Against Hate Criminals

Three white supremacists involved in a racially motivated assault last year on a black man in Houston will serve federal prison sentences ranging from 30 to 77 months.

Brian Kerstetter, 32, was sentenced yesterday to 77 months, followed by three years of supervised release, by U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt. Charles Cannon, 26, was sentenced to 37 months and Michael McLaughlin, 41, to 30 months. They each also must complete three years of supervision upon their release.

A Houston jury on April 16 convicted the three of violating federal law contained in the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Those three convictions are believed to raise the number of people convicted nationwide under the 3-year-old law to 15.

“James Byrd was murdered 14 years ago not far from Houston because he was African-American, and today, these defendants have been sentenced under the critical new law enacted in his name for viciously attacking an African-American because of the color of his skin,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division. “It is a sad reality that violent acts of hate committed because of someone’s race are not a thing of the past, and the department will continue to use every available tool to identify and prosecute hate crimes whenever and wherever they occur.”

The three men met on Houston streets and “bonded” over their white supremacist tattoos, authorities said.  After removing their shirts, they approached and confronted Yondell Johnson, 29, as he waited for a bus shortly before midnight on Aug. 13.

Johnson, an amateur boxer, was backed up against a pole and fought off the men for about 10 minutes before one of them grabbed his ankles and pulled him to the ground.  Then, the attackers stomped and kicked Johnson, causing serious injuries.  “I thought I was on my way to dying, especially when they got me on the ground,” the victim said later.

Initially, the three were charged only with state misdemeanors before the Department of Justice stepped in, seeking and getting federal felony indictments.

Passage of the Shepard-Byrd hate crime law “provided a powerful tool to law enforcement,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen L. Morris said after the three were sentenced.

“With today’s sentencing, the message is clear,” Morris said. “Our communities will not tolerate hate, and individuals who commit such despicable bias-motivated crimes have been put on notice. They will be brought to justice and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”