Bedford added he didn’t believe the assault of White was a hate crime based on sexual orientation but rather one of opportunity. A video of the attack was uploaded to a hip hop website and went viral and the attackers can be heard shouting “faggot” at White as he is being kicked and punched to the ground.
“I don’t think you set out overtly to attack anyone in the gay community. I think this was based on a peer dynamic situation,” Bedford said.
Bedford stressed to the defendants that it is up to them to change their lives.
“I have a saying I use, ‘If it’s to be, it’s up to me,'” he said. “Your lawyer, your mother, your aunt, your probation officer, or prison are not going to make a life change for you. If you don’t get it, you will go to prison and come out a hardened criminal. It’s up to you to change your lives and all three of you have abilities.”
Bedford added the incident was a tragedy for everybody — for White, who now is fearful in public spaces because he’s afraid of strangers approaching him, as well as for the families and friends of the defendants.
“it’s a tragedy you brought on a whole lot of people,” he told the defendants.
Defendants apologize but judge, victim not impressed
The three men, dressed in blue jail jumpsuits and shackled at their waists and wrists, read aloud apologies to White today as White sat in the courtroom. They said they took responsibility for their actions and all also acknowledged they did not know Brandon White as others suggested.
“I’m disappointed in myself but I’m still in the growing process,” Wiiiams read from a written statement, who started his apology by saying he apologized to himself.
“This was just an out of control situation and it was blown out of proportion,” Williams said. “I would like to ask forgiveness of Mr. Brandon White.”
Moragne apologized Thursday but White was not in court at that time. So he read his apology again for White to hear.
“I was wrong in attacking a man I did not know, not because I dislike this person, but because I wanted to gain the approval of other people around me,” he said.
Cain, who threw the first punch, said he was wrong for jumping on Brandon. “I’m not the type of young man to jump on innocent people,” he said.
Bedford admitted he was not impressed with the apologies.
“With respect to the professions of regret and sorrow — I don’t like to be cynical, but it seems me that everyone going to jail experiences remorse. It’s like crocodile remorse,” Bedford said. “I don’t put a whole lot of stock into it for me … your true remorse remains to be seen.”
Defense attorneys said in closing statements that they believed that the prosecution was “grandstanding” with this crime because of the media attention paid to it and its attempt to seek such a harsh sentence. Gabe Banks, representing the Fulton DA’s office, said this was not true because White’s life was truly at risk.
Bedford added the hardest part of being a judge is sentencing someone. While some cases are clearcut, “other times are much more difficult and this is one of those times” adding that he believes the defendants are as much as victims as some would characterize as are the victims of their crimes.
“I have to be concerned about the victim, the community, the defendants — all of these have to be balanced out when I have to sentence,” he explained.
“Prison is not a very good alternative. Prisons create more problems than remedies, but that’s a decision of the legislature and not the court. This court believes in accountability and responsibility,” he said. “If nobody holds you accountable you keep doing what you’re doing, which is what you guys have done.”
In addition to the prison term, the defendants were sentenced to 96 hours of community service and intense probation once released, which could be as soon as four years. The probation includes earning their GEDs, attending Men Stopping Violence if possible or other anger management programs, job skills training, staying away from alcohol and drug and no gang affiliations.
After today’s hearing, White said he also did not believe their apologies were sincere.
“I really don’t believe they were sincere. It was that moment where you wanted to show you were remorseful … but if you want to apologize it has to come from your gut, your heart, your mind, not from a piece a paper,” White said.
White ‘surprised’ about LGBT activists seeking probation for defendants
White said he was never wanted to try to influence the sentence and left that decision up to the judge. He said believed the sentence was fair.
When asked about LGBT activists who signed a letter seeking the men be put on probation or serve community service rather than being sentenced to a lengthy prison term, White said he was angered that they never approached him to ask about what he thought.
“I was very surprised and the reason being I actually didn’t find out about the letter until a couple days ago it had already been sent out to the judge, it had already been sent out to the DA’s office,” he said.
“And then when it had my name in it I’m like where did these people come from? Why would you say you are advocating for me when at the end of the day you are on the other side,” he said.
White said he was never contacted by the activists. Greg Smith, a representative for White, said he received one email asking to speak to White but no specifics were given.
Fulton prosecutor Gabe Banks said after the hearing he still believes the beating was a hate crime because of the slurs used in the attack and added the FBI and U.S. Attorneys Office are still investigating the crime.
He also said he was disappointed in the letter from the LGBT community.
“Brandon should have been talked to about the letter before the letter was sent out. They owed Brandon the respect to talk to him and at least communicate. Just reaching out via email … it’s not too hard to get in touch with someone,” Banks said.
“They contacted the defendants and their attorneys. They could have contacted him through my office. I’m not saying prison is going to do away with homophobia. But this is not about their agenda. This is about Brandon White,” Banks added.
LGBT activists who signed letter hope for future dialogue
Xochitl Bervera, who worked with the defendants and signed onto a letter signed by more than 20 LGBT activists including State Rep. Simone Bell (D-Atlanta) asking the court to have the young men receive probation rather than a prison term, said after the hearing that the time is now for the community find a better way to stop the cycle of violence than looking to the prison system.
“I think what’s really important now is that the community move forward and find ways to talk about how we keep our community safe and end violence in a way that doesn’t engage state systems that cage people and target our community,” she said.
The Brandon White case was an important one to advocate for this kind of thinking because homophobia is not eliminated by sentencing people to prison.
“In this case there there was a lot at stake. As a community we need to start asking the question of how to stop the cycle of violence, how to do we end hate-based violence and homophobia. And it’s not the prison system,” she said.
Photos: Defendants Darael Williams (top), Christopher Cain (middle) and Dorian Moragne (bottom).