UPDATED: Savannah, Ga. LGBT leaders want misdemeanor charges in gay man’s beating upgraded to felony

Georgia is only one of five states without a hate crimes law and local LGBT activists are now relying on a federal hate crimes law to intervene in the beating of a gay man in Savannah allegedly by two U.S. Marines.

“I’ve been in touch with the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., on this and they were passing it on to appropriate officials to look at,” said Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham.

“Since we don’t have a statute we have to depend on federal authorities for the crime to be investigated and prosecuted,” he said.

The two Marines arrested and charged in the beating over the weekend face misdemeanor charges.

“I’m very concerned this happened in the first place. But these misdemeanor charges are outrageous,” Graham added. “And then to turn [the Marines] over to the military police is a miscarriage of justice.”

A vigil for the victim, 26-year-old Kieran Daly, is being planned for Sunday at 2 p.m. at Johnson Square in Savannah, said Kevin Clark, board member for Georgia Equality in Savannah.

The Savannah Morning News reported Sunday that Keil Joseph Cronauer, 22, and Christopher Charles Stanzel, 23, were arrested in the serious beating of Daly. Cronauer and Stanzel are stationed at Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, S.C., the newspaper reported.

Christopher Charles Stanzel accused of beating a gay man
Christopher Charles StanzelA marine accused of beating a gay man in Savannah
Keil Joseph Cronauer

According the to the news article:

Cronauer and Stanzel told police they were being harassed by a gay man and wanted to get away from him. But witnesses painted a different picture, according to the report.

They told police one of the men grew angry because he thought Daly was winking at him and struck Daly in the back of the head with his fist, knocking him unconscious.

Saturday night, from his bed at Memorial University Medical Center, Daly insisted he tried to convince the Marines he was not winking at them.

“The guy thought I was winking at him,” Daly said. “I told him, ‘I was squinting, man. … I’m tired.'”

Daly said one of the men told him he demanded respect because he served in Iraq. And at least one hurled slurs at him as he tried to walk away.

“That’s the last thing I remember is walking away,” Daly said.

Daly said after his friends performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation at the scene, he was taken to Memorial University Medical Center and diagnosed with bruises to his brain. He had two seizures immediately after the attack and was expected to remain at Memorial for several days.

A federal hate crimes law was signed by President Obama late last year. Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office held the inaugural Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act community conference at Georgia State University to inform local law enforcements officials about the law and how it would work in local communities.

For Daly, who told the newspaper he came out only six months ago and now realizes the two men who allegedly beat him face only a misdemeanor, Georgia’s lack of a hate crime law is a grave matter.

“It leaves me wondering why Georgia is one of five states that doesn’t have a hate crime law on the state level,” he said.

The Savannah-Chatham police department’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender liaison is involved in the investigation, according to a police spokesperson.

The Savannah newspaper reported Cronauer and Stanzel were charged with battery charges and jailed in Chatham County before being released to military police.

The beating comes just weeks after gay groups led by Savannah’s chapter of Georgia Equality held a rally at City Hall that attracted some 400 people.

“There is no question in my mind that this was indeed a turning point for Savannah’s GLBT community,” said Kevin Clark, director of Georgia Equality’s Savannah chapter after the rally. Today, however, the mood is much different among the city’s LGBT residents.

“We were all euphoric about that rally and that euphoria has quickly evaporated,” Clark said.

“We are contacting the D.A.’s office to get the charges upgraded to a felony. The GLBT liaison [for Savannah-Chatham police] is hoping she can see to it and said detectives are working the case, taking statements and are on top of it,” Clark said.

Clark said, unfortunately, gay bashings in the historic district of Savannah are not new. In 2007, a man was beaten by a group of soldiers in front of the gay bar Blaine’s.

In 2006, Travis McClain, a young gay man, was beaten in a parking lot during the city’s large St. Patrick’s Day celebration weekend and called “faggot” by his attacker. The defendant, Charles Thomas Prickett, was only charged with a misdemeanor and served community service and was allowed to join the U.S. Marines as his punishment.

McClain also alleged police were negligent in the handling of his case but an internal investigation by the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department found no wrongdoing by the officers. The case eventually led to the police department hiring an LGBT liaison.

“I thought to myself, ‘Here we go again,’” Clark said of learning of the beating over the weekend.

“With Travis McClain, we spent a lot of time working the case and in the end justice was not done,” Clark said.

“What happened this weekend is another reminder we have a problem here. We hope this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back and the law enforcement and judicial leaders will make an example of this case,” he added.

“This has really got to stop. This violence is so uncalled for. We are all feeling frustration and anger here. And while we get a lot of support from the LGBT community, we don’t see a lot of support from the community at large — we need to see shock and outrage from city officials,” Clark said.

“We are committed this time to do everything humanly possible to see that true justice is done … that a precedent is set to stop this unnecessary violence,” he added.

UPDATED: The Associated Press reported today at onlineathens.com that the FBI in Atlanta confirmed they were looking into the beating as a possible hate crime.

The AP also reported the Marine base issued a statement saying Cronauer and Stanzel “told military investigators ‘they were subject to unwanted verbal advances, that they were closely followed, and that a threat was communicated’ by Daly or one of his friends.” The soldiers are confined to the base while a military investigation is ongoing.

A base spokesperson also said the two men have received death threats by people looking them up on Facebook.

According to the AP:

A spokesman for Marine Air Corps Station Beaufort, where the suspects are stationed nearby in South Carolina, said the two Marines have received death threats online from people angered by the case. He urged people not to jump to conclusions.

“There are two sides to every story and right now the only side getting told is the alleged victim’s,” said Gunnery Sgt. Chad McMeen. “People have looked them up on Facebook and they’re now giving them death threats, for what may have been a simple bar fight.”

Photos: The two U.S. Marines charged with beating a gay man over the weekend are Keil Joseph Cronauer (top) and Cristopher Charles Stanzel (courtesy Chatham County Sheriff’s Department)