Three women identified by their lawyers as lesbians were arraigned yesterday on a hate crime charge for allegedly beating a gay man at the Forest Hills T station in an unusual case that experts say exposes the law’s flawed logic.
“My guess is that no sane jury would convict them under those circumstances, but what this really demonstrates is the idiocy of the hate-crime legislation,” said civil liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate. “If you beat someone up, you’re guilty of assault and battery of a human being. Period. The idea of trying to break down human beings into categories is doomed to failure.”
Prosecutors and the ACLU of Massachusetts said no matter the defendants’ sexual orientation, they can still face the crime of assault and battery with intent to intimidate, which carries up to a 10-year prison sentence, by using hateful language.
“Someone who is Jewish can be anti-Semitic,” said ACLU staff attorney Sarah Wunsch. “The mere fact that someone is a member of the same class doesn’t mean they could not be motivated by hatred for their very own group.”
But Carolyn Euell, 38, mother of two of the defendants, Erika Stroud, 21, of Dorchester and Felicia Stroud, 18, West Roxbury, told reporters the alleged attack “can’t be hateful” because both her daughters are lesbians.
Prosecutor Lindsey Weinstein said the two sisters and one of their domestic partners, Lydia Sanford, also a defendant, viciously beat the man Sunday, repeatedly punching and kicking him after he bumped them with his backpack on a stairwell.
She said the victim, who suffered a broken nose, told cops he believed the attack was “motivated as a crime because of his sexual orientation” since the three women “called him insulting homophobic slurs.”
But attorney Helene Tomlinson, who represented Sanford, told the judge her client is “openly identified as a lesbian … so any homophobic (conduct) is unwarranted.” She said the alleged victim was the aggressor and used racial slurs: “He provoked them.”
Felicia Stroud’s attorney, C. Harold Krasnow, said, “They don’t know what his sexual orientation is, just like he doesn’t know what theirs is.”
Krasnow later noted the low bail the judge gave the women, $100 to $500 cash, and suggested the prosecution’s case was weak.
Civil-rights attorney Chester Darling agreed. “No one should go to court. It’s knuckle justice,” he said. “It’s a fair exchange.”
But Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, said prosecutors will have no problem proving the women committed a hate crime, even if they are lesbians.
“The defendants’ particular orientation or alleged orientations have no bearing on our ability to prosecute for allegedly targeting a person who they believe to be different from them,” he said.
By Richard Weir/Boston Herald