A lesbian and her twin brother charged with leading a group of people in an October 2013 beating of a gay man in a hate crime that prosecutors said could have resulted in the victim’s death were sentenced on Monday to one year in jail.
The sentence handed down by D.C. Superior Court Judge Yvonne Williams against Christina and Christopher Lucas, who were 20 at the time of the incident, startled and angered police and prosecutors who consider the sentence far too lenient, according to a D.C. police source familiar with the case.
A Superior Court jury on May 8 convicted the two of felony aggravated assault while armed with a hate crime designation following a two-week trial.
At a June 29 sentencing hearing Williams sentenced the Lucas siblings to four years in prison but suspended three years, requiring the two to serve just one year. She also sentenced them to five years’ probation upon their release.
Over the strong opposition of prosecutors, Williams approved a request by defense attorneys that the Lucas siblings be sentenced under the city’s Youth Rehabilitation Act, which allows all records of their conviction and sentencing to be sealed from public view if they successfully complete the terms of their probation.
Police and prosecutors stated at the trial that the victim, a 29-year-old gay man, was leaving a party with his mother and female cousin on Oct. 19, 2013, at a house at Sherman Avenue and Harvard Street, N.W., when he was approached by the Lucas siblings and a group of people with them.
They called the victim a “faggot motherfucker” and other anti-gay slurs, according to a sentencing memorandum filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Veronica Renzi Jennings, the lead prosecutor.
“Ms. Lucas and Mr. Lucas targeted [the victim] and attacked him while he was on the street corner, punching him, knocking him down, and stomping him,” the memorandum says. “Defendant Christina Lucas also sliced [the victim’s] face with a sharp object while he was on the ground.”
When the victim’s cousin attempted to intervene to stop the assault Christopher Lucas punched her in the face, the memorandum says.
Christopher Lucas was charged and convicted of an additional count of simple assault for hitting the cousin, court records show. The records show that Williams sentenced him to three months in prison for that offense but suspended all three months, eliminating any jail time for the offense.
The sentencing memorandum by prosecutor Jennings says the victim was transported to MedStar Washington Hospital Center where he was treated for several facial fractures and a fractured left wrist.
“It is only by pure chance that [the victim] did not die as a result of this senseless and hateful assault,” Jennings said in the sentencing memorandum. “People have died after experiencing far less trauma to their head.”
The victim’s mother told the Washington Blade in a phone interview on Tuesday that her son was taken to a hospital emergency room about two weeks ago after suffering a severe migraine headache. She said doctors told her the head pain may be due to a brain injury related to the assault.
“I know for a fact that my son didn’t say anything to them,” said his mother, who asked that her name and the name of her son and niece be withheld out of fear that they could be in danger of retaliation by friends of the perpetrators.
“He doesn’t know any of them,” she said. “It was a very senseless crime. And I was very shocked by the judge and the sentence. It was a slap on the wrist.”
Courtney Vaughn, the attorney representing Christina Lucas, and Adgie O’Bryant, the attorney representing Christopher Lucas, did not return calls by the Blade seeking comment.
The two attorneys argued in their own sentencing memoranda that their clients had an unusually troubled childhood as they were raised for a period of time by a drug-addicted mother before their grandmother gained custody over them; their father played no part in their upbringing; and they experienced trauma when their older brother was murdered.
Non-mandatory sentencing guidelines established for Superior Court judges recommend a sentence of between four and 15 years for a felony offense similar to the one to which the Lucas siblings were convicted.
The city’s hate crimes law gives judges the additional option of “enhancing” a sentence by one-and-a-half times greater for a hate crime conviction compared to a non-hate crime offense.
In the sentencing memorandum Jennings called on the judge to hand down a sentence “at the very top of the guideline range (48 to 180 months) for both defendants.”
One D.C. attorney familiar with Judge Williams who spoke on condition of not being identified said Williams has a reputation of handing down sentences that court observers consider lenient for young defendants who the judge believes should be given a second chance.
“I think they lucked out in getting her as a judge,” the attorney said. “I can say that this was an unusually light sentence. I just had an aggravated assault case and the defendant got 10 years.”
During the trial Christopher Lucas testified that his sister is a lesbian and he would never commit an anti-gay assault. Christina Lucas didn’t testify at the trial but a video was presented in which she told police at the time of her arrest that as a lesbian she, too, would never engage in an anti-gay attack.
The police source, who spoke on condition of not being identified, said the strong evidence at the trial, including testimony by the victim, persuaded the jury to do something prosecutors have long considered a difficult outcome – they convicted the two defendants of an anti-gay hate crime.
“The jury found that at least one of the reasons why [the victim] was attacked was because he is a gay man,” Jennings said in the sentencing memorandum. “This type of conduct by the defendants, and their targeting of [the victim] because of who he is and how he presents, is reprehensible, illegal, and shows an utter contempt for human life,” she said.
“This was an example of the MPD and the U.S. Attorney doing exactly what we should do,” the police source said. “The fact that the judge went outside the sentencing guidelines is troubling at the very least.”
William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office, said the victim and his mother testified at the sentencing hearing on Monday as part of a process of presenting a victim’s impact statement to show the court how a serious crime affects the life of a victim.
But Miller said he was not aware of any outside groups presenting a community impact statement to the judge. In the past, the U.S. Attorney’s office has invited LGBT organizations to submit community impact statements in anti-LGBT hate crime cases. The purpose, according to prosecutors and LGBT activists, is to demonstrate to a judge that a hate crime has a negative impact on an entire community beyond that of the individual victim.
Sterling Washington, who served as director of the Office of GLBT Affairs under Mayor Vincent Gray, said his office helped coordinate the community impact statement process with a coalition of local LGBT groups known as the Violence Prevention and Response Team, or VPART. The groups making up the coalition include Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV), D.C. Trans Coalition, SMYAL, and Rainbow Response Coalition.
The Blade this week sent email messages to leaders of each of those groups and to Sheila Alexander Reid, who replaced Washington as director of the LGBT Affairs Office under Mayor Muriel Bowser, asking whether they considered submitting a community impact statement to Judge Williams in the case of the Lucas twins.
None of the group leaders responded to the message as of Wednesday afternoon.
Alexander-Reid told the Blade on Wednesday in a statement that her office will “continue facilitating the Violence Prevention and Response Task Force (VPART) alongside community organizations and leaders doing violence prevention and survivor support work in the District.”
She said that on behalf of all D.C. residents, “we send our deepest sympathies to the family of the victim of this violent attack. Everyone deserves to feel safe in our city regardless of who they are or love.”
But her statement did not say whether she knows why one or more of the groups participating in VPART did not file a community impact statement to the judge in the case of defendants Christina and Christopher Lucas.
The LGBT groups that make up VPART also have not said whether they have asked D.C. police why the Oct. 19, 2013 attack against the gay victim by the Lucas siblings was not publicly disclosed until the two defendants were convicted in D.C. Superior Court on May 8, 2015.
In a statement released to the Blade on Wednesday, U.S. Attorney spokesperson William Miller said his office worked diligently and aggressively to prosecute the case against the Lucas siblings.
“The jury delivered a powerful verdict finding both Christopher and Christina Lucas guilty of aggravated assault while armed with a bias enhancement for the beating,” he said. “The jury found that at least one of the reasons that the victim was attacked was because he is a gay man.”
Miller added, “Reflecting on the seriousness of the offense, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a nine-page sentencing memorandum that sought a sentence of 180 months for each defendant on this charge, at the very high end of the Court’s voluntary sentencing guidelines.”