A 21-year-old California man could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole if he is convicted of killing a gay and Jewish University of Pennsylvania student. Prosecutors say that they are considering the homicide a hate crime because the man's phone contained large amounts of anti-Semitic and homophobic material. The man entered a plea of not guilty during a Nov. 9 hearing in Orange County Superior Court.
The victim was reported missing after visiting a Lake Forest park with the man in January. The man is alleged to have picked him up at his parents' home. An exhaustive search ensued, and the 19-year-old student's body was discovered a few days later buried in a shallow grave. Pathologists determined that he had been stabbed multiple times in the neck and face. Prosecutors say that they have DNA evidence linking the man to the crime as well as the evidence found on his phone.
The man's bail was initially set at $5 million, but the judge presiding over the Nov. 9 hearing determined that the man was a danger to the community and ordered him remanded. The man's attorney had argued that bail should be reduced to $1 million and said that the remand order was unnecessary because his client was unable to meet the original $5 million figure.
Prosecutors may be reluctant to offer plea agreements to defendants accused of committing violent crimes motivated by hate as doing so would likely attract media attention and could enflame vulnerable communities. However, more than nine out of 10 criminal cases are resolved at the negotiating table, and experienced criminal defense attorneys may remind prosecutors that trials are expensive and juries are unpredictable. Attorneys could also point out that communities may be even angrier if individuals accused of committing hate crimes are acquitted.
Source: KTVU, "California man pleads not guilty to murder of gay student in hate crime", Amy Taxin, Nov. 9, 2018