Ga. state Reps. Simone Bell and Ralph Long speak out on sentencing in Atlanta anti-gay assault

The charge of being part of a gang carries a maximum 15 year sentence while the aggravated assault charges carry maximum sentences of 20 years each. The robbery by force charge also carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.

Fulton County prosecutors are asking that Moragne be sentenced to 15 years in prison to serve 10 and for Williams and Cain to be sentenced to 15 years to serve eight.

The LGBT activists who signed the letter on behalf of Moragne and Williams said that putting them behind bars for a long prison sentence will not eradicate homophobia.

“With great respect to the Court, we must reiterate that we believe the homophobia underlying physical attacks on LGBTQ individuals is not remedied through imprisonment. We are supportive of Mr. Morgane and Mr. William being permitted to regain their freedom by imposing sentences that will hold each young man to account for his actions through probation or community service,” stated a letter to Judge Bedford and signed by a group of activists, including state Rep. Bell. Read the full letter and those who signed it here and here.

Bell explained her signing on to the letter with this statement issued late Thursday:

I view the attack on Mr. White as a crime centered in hate due his sexual orientation, whether perceived or real, at the time of the attack. I would like to see the federal hate crimes case move forward. I believe doing so would create a precedent, and move forward hate crimes legislation in Georgia that I have signed in the state legislature. It is a protection we desperately need. As it stands, the perpetrators would be convicted under Georgia’s criminal code, not as a hate crime — Georgia does not have a Hate Crimes law, and their exposure could be an enormously long sentence with no system of rehabilitation for their acts, only imprisonment.

I am on record with Mr. White’s advisors and the community to be strategic about moving forward in this matter to seek and receive the justice that Mr. White deserves. As I stated at the first community meeting regarding this matter, at the end of the day we want a crime like the one perpetrated against Mr. White to never happen again. When it does occur, I would like for there to be consequences that extend beyond incarceration. I think the state hate crimes law opens the door for such policy. We have an opportunity to not only seek justice for Mr. White, but for others, and strategically work to eradicate homophobia, which is the root of this crime. It is impossible to place a time frame on the amount of hurt and pain that Mr. White has experienced. However, there is a way to be sure that those who commit these crimes will be forced to face their hatred head on. I believe a state hate crimes law and a policy change can do that. The current case and sentencing does not bring about the systematic change that our community needs and deserves.

Rep. Bell, who is openly gay, is seeking reelection for District 58 and faces incumbent Rep. Ralph Long, an LGBT ally. Due to the Republican redistricting, the two were drawn into the same district. District 58 now includes the Pittsburgh community where the attack took place.

Rep. Long was at the Thursday hearing and testified on behalf of the defendants. He was questioned by Moragne’s attorney, Jay Abt.

Long said he while he knew the defendants had prior records and were on probation when the crime took place against White, he believed a sentence of 10 years was too long for a young man to serve in prison.

“The community is tired, very tired. Tired of that corner [1029 McDaniel St., where the attack took place at a convenience store dubbed the “pink store]. It is a nuisance,” Rep. Long said on the stand.

“However, it hurts to lose the lives of four young men. There is little offering to our young men out there [in Pittsburgh community]. But they have disrespected themselves, the individual, the state of Georgia. I would like to see them do some time, but 10 years is too long,” Rep. Long added. “I would like the court to be lenient but I want them to know the inside of a cell.”

Added Long, “These young men can change their lives. I’d like to see them tethered to the system for 10 years including probation and to do some significant time but then have them give back to the community. The community has been thoroughly embarrassed.”