Condemn Judge For Punishing Racist Hate Crime With Probation and Essay Assignment

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Target: Criminal Court Judge James Linn

Goal: Condemn Judge Linn for lenient sentencing of a man convicted of a hate crime.

Last year, 19-year-old Matthew Herrmann, along with two other teens, was charged with felony counts of committing a hate crime, unlawful restraint, and battery after it was discovered that he and his friends had attempted to hang a black student who attended their high school.

The three teens lured the victim to one of their Illinois homes, put a noose around the victim’s neck and hurled racial slurs at him. When the victim managed to escape, one of the teens chased him down, held a knife to his throat and threatened to kill him. The three assailants planned the attack because one of the suspects wanted the victim to stop speaking with his white female cousin.

Matthew Herrmann was recently sentenced for his part in the crimes. After being charged as an adult, Herrmann pled guilty to the misdemeanor battery charge and then entered a plea deal with Cook County prosecutors. The terms of the plea bargain were that Herrmann would participate in a “peacemaking circle” with the victim, family, clergy and school counselors. According to prosecutors, this approach is typically used in juvenile delinquency cases, and is designed to provide healing for the victim and resolve “underlying issues” that caused the act. Criminal Court Judge James Linn agreed with the deal and sentenced Herrmann to two years of probation for the misdemeanor conviction, in addition to ordering him to write an essay about lynching in the United States, which he would then read in the “peacemaking circle.”

There are numerous problems with this sentence. The first, of course, is that Herrmann was tried as an adult, and his sentence should reflect the nature of the act. By pleading guilty to the lesser charge, Herrmann somehow managed to avoid being punished for the more serious charges at all. An essay and a “peacemaking circle” are hardly just responses to a hate crime in which Herrmann and his friends were prepared to kill another student. The victim testified that he felt the assailants were being serious about the attack and that if he hadn’t escaped he might have lost his life. Herrmann’s only punishment for such a crime is to write an essay. An essay which Herrmann says the judge gave no word count for and so, “I guess I’ll just do a three-page average paper that I would do for school.” Herrmann also felt that incident had been “largely” blown out of proportion.

Herrmann and many others have come out of this incident indifferent to the damage that could have been done. By sentencing a serious crime with an essay Judge James Linn belittled the threat to the victim’s life and the gravity of the crime. It is an insult to the victim, and a free pass for Herrmann. Sign the petition below to condemn Judge Linn for the leniency of this sentence.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Judge James Linn,

Recently, you sentenced 19-year-old Matthew Herrmann to two years of probation and an essay assignment, after he was charged with a series of felony counts. Herrmann pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge and then entered a plea deal with a prosecutor, a deal which eliminated any sort of true punishment for the felonies he had been charged with.

Matthew Herrmann was charged with committing a hate crime. He tied a noose around a black student’s neck and then, along with two friends, threatened the student’s life. Herrmann’s crime was serious, intentional and premeditated. Yet his punishment is to write an essay and sit in a “peacemaking circle.” The punishment is insulting and degrading for the victim whose life was seriously threatened by Herrmann. Matthew Herrmann was charged as an adult – his sentence should reflect that. I am writing to express my disappointment in this farcically lenient sentence, and to condemn you for not taking more serious action against a serious crime.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Joe Gratz via Flickr.

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