July 15, 2011 at 11:23 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Tony Hunter assailant pleads guilty to new charges

Robert Hannah

Robert Hannah. (Washington Blade file photo)

Robert Hannah, a 20-year-old D.C. man who served six months in jail for a 2008 assault that led to the death of gay Maryland resident Tony Randolph Hunter, pleaded guilty on Thursday to unrelated charges of possession of marijuana and attempted threats against his girlfriend.

In exchange for the guilty plea, the U.S. Attorney’s office agreed to dismiss a third charge of simple assault against Hannah, which was filed in June in connection with the attempted threats charge.

Court papers show that the attempted threat and simple assault charges were classified as a domestic violence incident that D.C. police said involved Hannah allegedly using physical force to pull his girlfriend against her will into a street.

He faces a possible maximum sentence of six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 for each of the two charges to which he pleaded guilty. D.C. Superior Court Judge Jose Lopez, who presided over Thursday’s court hearing in which Hannah entered the guilty plea, scheduled a sentencing hearing for the case on July 19.

Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence, a D.C. group, and residents of the Shaw neighborhood where Hannah lives have said they plan to file community impact statements with the court urging the judge to hand down a stringent sentence.

LGBT and community activists have been following Hannah’s involvement in the criminal justice system since he was released from jail in 2010 after serving a maximum six month sentence on a charge of misdemeanor simple assault in connection with the Hunter case.

In a highly controversial action, the U.S. Attorney’s office allowed Hannah to plead guilty to simple assault over an incident in which he admitted punching Hunter in the face after the two crossed paths on the street while Hunter and a friend were walking to a gay bar.

Hunter fell backwards into a fence before falling to the ground and hitting his head on the pavement, resulting in a brain injury that the city’s medical examiner said caused his death.

Hannah told police he hit Hunter in self-defense after Hunter allegedly touched his crotch and butt in a sexually suggestive way. Police said a witness backed up Hannah’s story. A friend of Hunter’s, who was also on the scene, told police Hunter never touched Hannah and that the attack against Hunter was unprovoked.

The U.S. Attorney’s office has said it was forced to lower the charge against Hannah from manslaughter to simple assault due to a number of developments in the case, including a report by the D.C. medical examiner that Hunter was intoxicated at the time of the incident and most likely fell on his head because he was drunk rather than because of the assault by Hannah.  Hunter’s friend provided several conflicting versions of what happened, the U.S. Attorney’s office claimed, making him an unreliable witness.

GLOV officials have disputed these assertions, saying the U.S. Attorney’s office and D.C. police failed to adequately investigate the case as a likely gay-bashing incident. They said the U.S. Attorney’s office botched what activists said was Hannah’s use of the so-called “gay panic” defense, a defense that gay activists say is a bogus alibi to justify an anti-gay attack.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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