July 22, 2015 at 5:43 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
D.C. judge explains leniency in hate attack
Yvonne Williams, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Superior Court Judge Yvonne Williams said she’s known for ‘telling it like it is.’ (Image courtesy YouTube)

D.C. Superior Court Judge Yvonne Williams took the unusual step of calling a special hearing on July 15 to explain why she sentenced a 22-year-old lesbian to six months in jail and her twin brother, who’s straight, to one year for instigating and leading what police and prosecutors have called a brutal gay bashing attack.

Williams called the hearing just over two weeks after she handed down the sentences at a separate hearing on June 29. The victim, a 29-year-old gay man, and his mother, who witnessed the attack, testified then that the beating and face slashing of the victim that took place during the incident have had a devastating impact on their lives.

Sources familiar with the case have said police and prosecutors believe the sentences are far too lenient for a conviction in an assault that could have resulted in the victim’s death.

“I wanted to have this hearing because at the initial sentencing, admittedly, I was pretty rushed because I had a jury waiting,” said Williams, who was referring to another trial over which she was presiding.

“It’s really an opportunity for me to just talk,” she said. “And apparently, as the judge, you can just summon people and everybody has to come listen to you. So here we are.”

Saying she is someone known at the courthouse for “telling it like it is,” Williams took about 30 minutes to explain her rationale for assessing the seriousness of hate crimes as well as the seriousness of the injuries suffered by crime victims.

According to prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Christina Lucas and her brother Christopher, who were 20 when the incident took place in October 2013, showed no remorse after a D.C. Superior Court jury convicted them on May 8 of aggravated assault while armed and designated the incident as an anti-gay hate crime.

During the trial, witnesses testified that the two defendants led a group of others in an attack on the victim on a Northwest Washington street, with the Lucas siblings and the others punching and stomping the victim multiple times after knocking him to the ground.

According to trial testimony, Christina Lucas slashed the victim’s face with a sharp object while he was lying on the ground, causing him to suffer a permanent facial scar just below his eye after she called him a “faggot motherfucker.”

The lead prosecutor in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Veronica Jennings, submitted a pre-sentencing memorandum to the court calling for a sentence in the upper range of voluntary sentencing guidelines established by the court for a bias-related aggravated assault while armed. The guidelines call for a sentence of between four and 15 years of incarceration.

Instead, Williams initially sentenced the Lucas siblings to four years in jail and suspended all but one year. She also sentenced them to five years of supervised probation upon their release. At the Aug. 15 hearing, Williams startled prosecutors by announcing she changed her mind and lowered the sentence for Christina Lucas to a six-month jail term.

A deputy U.S. Attorney attending the Aug. 15 hearing suggested Williams may have acted improperly by changing the sentence after the official sentencing hearing had ended. He pointed out that the reduced sentence was not included in the hearing transcript and prosecutors were not present when the change was made, preventing them from objecting to the change.

Williams said she would call another hearing to give prosecutors and the defense a chance to file a motion or brief to weigh in on the sentencing change. But she gave no indication she would change the sentence back to its original one-year jail term.

“The conduct done here by the defendants is reprehensible, right?  They’re part of a group of people that jumped another individual,” Williams said at the Aug. 15 hearing.

“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,” she said. “People are disfigured. People have broken bones…People are left with sort of lifelong disfigurements.”

By contrast, she said in the case of the Lucas siblings, the victim’s injuries weren’t as severe.

“There were no long-term injuries,” she said. “There were no broken bones…he’s obviously not in a wheelchair.”

She added, “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.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kapil Longani told Williams that recent medical reports from the victim’s doctors show he may be suffering from a long-term brain injury as a result of repeated blows to the head during the attack. But Williams said she could only base her sentencing decision on verified facts presented at the trial.

In comments that are likely to draw concern by LGBT activists, Williams said she also did not believe the hate crime aspect of the case reached a level of seriousness that called for an enhanced prison sentence that the D.C. hate crimes law gives judges the option of utilizing.

“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,” she said. “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.”

Williams said she considers a true hate crime to be a random targeting of a person because he or she is a member of a certain race, sexual orientation, gender or some other characteristic. She cited the recent murder of nine black people in a church in South Carolina by a white supremacist as an example of a serious hate crime.

“The most famous homosexual killing is the one – was it in Utah?” Williams asked. “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,” Williams said as the Lucas twins stood in silence next to their attorneys. “Those people didn’t know him.”

She appeared to be referring to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming student who was tied to a fence post in Laramie, Wyo., and severely beaten and died a short time later. The attacker and a co-defendant who assisted in the attack were sentenced to life in prison for murder convictions.

Because Wyoming did not have a hate crimes law and there was no federal hate crimes law that covered gay people at the time, the Shepard case was not legally classified as a hate crime, even though it has become recognized as one of the nation’s most egregious anti-gay hate crimes.

Williams said that while in law school 20 years ago in Boston, when she was a teaching assistant, one of her students – a 22-year-old lesbian – was attacked and beaten by a group of men who became enraged when they saw her walking down the street holding hands with her girlfriend.

“At the time I’m only 24, so I’m not that old, but that kind of stuff sticks with you,” she said. “So I know, you know, how serious hate crimes can be and how dangerous it is.”

But in the cases of the Lucas twins, Williams said, she did not believe the attack against the gay male victim was totally random because trial testimony revealed that the victim’s mother knew the Lucases. Williams noted that the victim’s mother’s brother is the uncle of the Lucas twins.

According to Williams, the mother played a key role in identifying the Lucases to the police during the investigation, which led to their arrests. She said some type of dispute had been going on between the two parties.

“But part of it had to do with the use of the language and the hate crime,” Williams said in referring to the alleged anti-gay language used by one or both of the Lucas twins during the assault.

“Again, reprehensible behavior,” she said. “And so, but I just need to make clear that there are different levels of hate crime…For example, if two black people get into a fight and one of them uses the N word against another one I don’t think of that as…a hate crime.”

The reason she raised the issue of the N word, Williams said, is that Christina Lucas is gay. She said she isn’t certain whether certain anti-gay slurs that would be unacceptable for straight people to use are somewhat acceptable for gays to use among themselves.

“Obviously, in this context, nothing feels more comfortable because it’s a violent attack,” said Williams. “But I’m just saying, linguistically, I don’t know where we are linguistically on this issue,” she said.

“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.”

She added, however, that regardless of whether she understands it, the jury handed down a hate crime conviction in the Lucas case. Yet she also factored in her perception that the Lucas siblings are not likely to target gay people in the future.

“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.”

Likewise, concerning Christopher Lucas, Williams said she also doesn’t believe he will likely target gay people going forward because of his close relationship with his sister.

“I don’t have a concern that Mr. Lucas is just going to be chasing after gay people because then he’d be chasing after his own sister,” Williams said.

Two prominent local attorneys had opposing opinions on whether Judge Williams acted properly in the way she lowered her sentence for Christina Lucas and her decision not to “enhance” the sentence under the provision of the D.C. hate crimes law. Both spoke to the Blade on condition that they not be identified because they could have future dealings with the judge.

One of them believes Williams’ sentencing change violates judicial rules banning ex-parte actions by judges and could possibly lead to disciplinary action against her by the an arm of the D.C. Bar that investigates allegations of misconduct by judges. The same attorney said Williams acted improperly but within her authority as a judge to decline to enhance the sentences under the hate crimes law.

“This is a blatant display of judge nullification of a jury verdict,” the attorney said. “She is basically saying she doesn’t agree this is a hate crime. She nullified the hate crime conviction.”

The other attorney took strong exception to that assessment.

“I see no hint that the judge doesn’t agree with the D.C. hate crime law,” the attorney said. “She’s just fitting the sentence to all the relevant facts about the crime and the victim and the defendants, which is what we want judges to do,” said the attorney.

“Different people, different judges, will see things differently in different cases,” the attorney said. “That doesn’t make one right and one wrong. I don’t see any basis for accusing the judge of misconduct on that score.”

Concerning changing the sentence at an inappropriate time, the attorney said the judge has denied doing that. “And I certainly don’t know the facts,” said the attorney. “She has invited the parties to brief the matter, and I assume they’ll do so. If she waited too long to change the sentence, or failed to give proper notice, she can correct her error, or the court of appeals can.”

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

  • Has anyone done any investigating as to whether this ‘judge’ has any connections to right-wing anti-LGBT groups? Even though she seems to accept the legitimacy of hate crimes laws in the abstract, her ‘rationale’ here borders on ‘all crime is hate crime.’

    ” it’s hard for me to grasp how one gay person commits a hate crime against another.”

    Then maybe the ‘judge’ should have recused herself and let a judge who can read the law and see that it contains no exceptions for such scenarios preside over the case.

  • Ditto to Katrina’s comment. This appears on its face to be an anti-LGBT biased judge who should have recused herself. She shows utter contempt for DC’s hate crimes law– and for DC’s LGBTQ residents and visitors.
    Then maybe the ‘judge’ should have recused herself and let a judge who can read the law and see that it contains no exceptions for such scenarios preside over the case.

  • She’s an embarrassment to the court.

  • The sentence is about right for an assault. Assault meaning a one on one or two on two fight. I agree that it’s hard to imagine it as a hate crime against a gay person, since she is gay and with her brother. However, regardless of the hate crime factor, it was a lynching. A group jumped on one person for what? How is that ever ok? Its not. It wasn’t ok hate, nor was it during our past, just as it wasn’t when the man was jumped with the confederate flag.

    Someone needs to ask if this judge would have handed down the same sentence if a group beat up a black man. Call me a scenic, but I don’t believe she would.

    Really though, at least hate crime laws are written to protect gay Americans; our own attorney General said whites aren’t a protected class.

    But what can we expect when at least 20 people in a crowd of hundreds beat Denton ward to death in McDonald’s parking lot for being white, and no one was charged aside a 90 day simple assault for 1 guy.

  • Remove this stupid bigot from the bench now!

    To her, “hate crime” means black victim, not gay victim.

  • This judge just *might* have been persuaded by LGBT Community Impact Statements prior to sentencing– that is *IF* Mayor Bowser and her LGBT Affairs Office cared at all about stopping violent anti-LGBT hate crimes.

    — Why isn’t the Mayor’s LGBT Affairs Office keeping a simple database of hate crimes cases, and their movement through the criminal justice process?

    — Why isn’t the Mayor’s LGBT Affairs Office making it easy to download Community Impact Statement forms with an online documents download website?

    — What is the Mayor’s LGBTAO been doing this year? What has the Mayor’s LGBTAO actually done for the last 6 months?

    — What is LGBTAO’s annual budget? Who are LGBTAO’s paid officials? How much is LGBTAO’s annual salary budget, and who gets paid what?

    For more info, just google,
    “DC Community Impact Statements Prior to Sentencing”
    or try this link….

      • Yep. BS may very well sum up Bowser’s version of OLGBTA. We all can keep a pretty easy scorecard to judge DC mayors on LGBT-issues accomplishments …

        4 years of Adrian Fenty,
        4 years of Vincent Gray and
        6 months+ of Muriel Bowser.

        So far, hands down, Mayor Gray’s record beats Fenty’s and Bowser’s (COMBINED). That’s by a wide mile, too.

        There’s no reason at all that Bowser’s OLGBTA, working in partnership with MPD’s GLLU, shouldn’t become a beacon of up-to-date public safety information and a reassuring comfort for DC LGBTQs and victims of anti-LGBT hate crimes seeking justice.

        All it takes is some imagination and will. Whatever Gray’s mistakes– or appearance of mistakes– no one can say he lacked will and imagination to improve LGBT peoples’ lives.

  • You did the right thing, be proud in making people accountable, your a brave and keep good energy going.

  • This judge is outrageous- telling us a hate crime that doesn’t leave someone in a wheelchair or dead really isn’t that serious. She has now opened the door to hate crimes with people knowing if they just attack someone but don’t do too much damage this judge won’t think it is serious.

    • Public outrage and venting has its place in a political process you know well.

      The Blade’s investigative reporting of this systemic failure at the sentencing stage of the criminal justice process is and has been outstanding.

      The resultant public outrage of the anti-LGBT assumptions, misinformation and bigotry expressed by this judge is understandable. And that public outrage is an essential catalyst to education and reform within DC’s Courts.

      But Peter, the *process* of education and reform to resolve this unfair, treatment of anti-LGBT hate crimes at Superior Court is being impeded by Mayor Bowser’s negligence and inaction on LGBT public safety issues.

      Worse still, the problem might go beyond our mayor’s mere negligence to intentional obfuscation and withholding of fundamental Executive Office assistance and/or public information related to…

      1) Elementary anti-LGBT hate crime case information *from the time it is recorded/ investigated* by Bowser’s police department (MPD and its Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit), and

      2) The progress of each such case– with hearing dates and times, trial dates and times, sentencing dates, and

      3) Facilitating/ assisting with additional information and forms so that LGBTQ residents and LGBTQ groups like GLOV, Rainbow Response, GLAA so they may submit Community Impact Statements to Courts’ judges at the sentencing stage, if applicable.

      The Mayor’s OLGBTA *SHOULD* be doing that. The “Mayor’s Office” name designation is really misnomer, too. We ought to remind ourselves… that Cabinet Level Office was created by DC residents and stakeholders and MANDATED by their COUNCIL.

      OLGBTA should not be used by any mayor as a political sham– or a rubbish CLOSET to cover up LGBT community concerns and government information LGBTQs are entitled to know as DC citizens.

      One of OLGBT’s primary missions is to help *CONNECT* LGBT residents with all relevant elements of their city government and its resources in meaningful ways– including DC’s Courts.

      Probably due to his prior, non-governmental management experience, Vincent Gray clearly understood that fundamental OLGBTA mission and, just as importantly, its mayoral responsibility. Gray demonstrated that with a good deal of noticeable personal passion and commitment as well.

      No mayor can fake that.

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