U.S. Marine faces lesser charge in attack on Savannah gay man

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

The ruling comes as Savannah prepares for its first Queer Power March on Friday and the 11th annual Savannah Pride on Saturday.

According to a police report, Daly was punched in the head on June 12. He said it was because the Marines thought he winked at them.

“I don’t know who struck me,” Daly testified at the court hearing today. The hearing for the soldiers had been postponed twice before today’s hearing.

LGBT activists, including Georgia Equality, in Atlanta and Savannah called for the crime to be considered a hate crime. However, after an investigation by the FBI and the Chatham County DA’s office, it was decided the incident did not carry the merit to be considered a hate crime.

A rally was held in Savannah on June 20 to call attention for the need of Georgia to have a state hate crimes law. Georgia is only one of five states in the nation without a state hate crimes law.

While a federal hate crime law exists, local LGBT activists and law experts saying meeting the criteria for a federal hate crime law is often a difficult path and that a state hate crime is still needed.

Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham explained there are differences in federal and state laws. With a state hate crimes law, local law enforcement personnel — police, investigators, first responders, prosecutors — would have the ability and authority to investigate an alleged hate crime.

“What is happening in Savannah is a perfect example,” Graham said. “The police authorities there didn’t feel they had the authority to investigate this at the local level.”

If Georgia had its own hate crime law that included sexual orientation and gender identity, there would be more training directed at the local level to investigate potential anti-LGBT crimes, he said.

“They would have the weight of state law behind them and criteria could be set on a local level,” he said.

An important criteria of the federal hate crimes law that would not be necessary for a state law is the “interstate commerce” clause, said Greg Nevins, supervising senior staff attorney in the Southern Regional Office of Lambda Legal based in Atlanta.

A very clear example of meeting the interstate commerce clause would be if a person in Augusta, Ga., calls a friend in South Carolina and says, “Hey, come to town so we can beat up a bunch of queers,” Nevins explained.

“As the body of case law gets more established, these kinds of cases will become easier to try,” Nevins said. “But right now that is a box the feds have to check off that the state would not.”