On February 12, 2016, 48-year-old truck driver Martin Blackwell entered his girlfriend’s apartment and saw her 24-year-old son Anthony Gooden resting in a bed with his 21-year-old boyfriend Marquez Tolbert. Disgusted by their relationship, Blackwell heated up the largest pot of boiling water in the apartment and poured it on the sleeping couple. When the men awoke screaming, Blackwell told them, “Get out of my house with all that gay.” Gooden’s mother heard the noise and Blackwell explained that he poured “a little hot water on them.”
“A little hot water” inflicted severe burns on Gooden and Tolbert. Gooden spent a month in the hospital, half of that time in a medically induced coma. He and his Tolbert had been going out for barely a month and suddenly they both had to endure multiple surgeries and skin grafts. After they left the hospital, both experienced great pain and had trouble doing basic tasks, like eating and bathing, without assistance.
What sentences are typical for anti-LGBTQ hate crimes?
A jury found Blackwell guilty of eight counts of aggravated battery and two counts of aggravated assault and sentenced him to 40 years in prison. Despite targeting a gay couple, he wasn’t charged with a hate crime because Georgia has no hate crime statutes. So we decided to see how Blackwell’s sentencing compares to people convicted of other notorious anti-LGBTQ hate crimes.
Here’s what we found:
— Elliot Morales shot a 32-year-old black man named Mark Carson in New York City on May 18, 2013. Morales was charged with a hate crime and got 40 years.
— Dwight DeLee shot and killed 22-year-old transgender woman Lateisha Green in New York in 2008. He was convicted of a hate crime of first-degree manslaughter and received 25 years, the maximum allowable sentence.
— Allen Ray Andrade beat 18-year-old hispanic trans woman Angie Zapata to death in Colorado on July 17, 2008. He was found guilty of first-degree murder and got sentenced to life in prison without parole.
— In 2008, 14-year-old Brandon McInerney shot and killed 15-year-old middle school student Lawrence King in California. After an initial mistrial, McInerney later pled guilty to second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and use of a firearm. He received 21 years.
Blackwell’s sentence seems to fall within the spectrum of what other lethal hate crimes receive, even though Blackwell’s crime was non-lethal and not prosecuted as a hate crime.
Why don’t all crimes targeting LGBTQ people get prosecuted as hate crimes?
Some states don’t have hate crime legislation and other states that do choose not to prosecute all anti-LGBTQ attacks as hate crimes because hate crimes are often more difficult to prosecute seeing as they require a lawyer to prove that the attacker was motivated by anti-LGBTQ bias. Thus, sometimes prosecutors will skip hate crime charges and go for the easier-to-prove charges associated with the crimes in question.
Also, while it’s hard to determine whether hate crimes actually reduce attacks against targeted communities (evidence suggests they don’t), hate crimes do send a triple message: First, to assailants that targeted attacks won’t be tolerated; second, to police to take such attacks seriously; and third to marginalized communities that they are welcome in a town, city or state.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is still considering whether to charge Blackwell with federal hate crime charges.