A race-based assault on a couple – because the woman is African American and the man is white – has earned the three assailants federal prison terms.
Each had pleaded guilty to his respective role in the brutal, racially motivated attack in 2011, which took place in the parking lot of a Marysville convenience store.
The last of the three to be sentenced, Anthony Merrell Tyler of Yuba City, was given a term Tuesday in Sacramento federal court of three years and 10 months behind bars. As part of his guilty plea in March, Tyler, 34, admitted smashing the windshield of a car occupied by the mixed-race couple, and then joining the two others in pummeling the male victim.
Each of the three assailants – Tyler, Billy James Hammett, 30, of Marysville and Perry Sylvester Jackson, 29, of Marysville – have white supremacist tattoos and admitted being driven by race-based hate.
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Tyler has the words “white pride” tattooed down the backs of his arms and a swastika on his left upper arm. He has previously acknowledged being a member of the Yuba County Peckerwoods, a white supremacist group.
In attempts to make the incident more palatable, all three pointed out to U.S. District Judge James A. Mendez that they were drunk beyond reason.
They were charged under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. Shepard was a gay student who was tortured and murdered in 1998 near Laramie, Wyo. Byrd was an African American who was tied to a truck, dragged behind it and decapitated in Jasper, Texas, in 1998.
Underscoring the importance placed on the case, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner of the Eastern District of California personally prosecuted it.
“This type of attack causes harm not only to the immediate victims, but tears at the fabric of our communities and society itself,” Vanita Gupta, acting head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division in Washington, D.C., said Tuesday in a statement.
“Such bias-motivated crimes should be an unfortunate mark of the past,” said Monica Miller, head of the FBI field office in Sacramento, in a statement after the sentencing. “However, the FBI will thoroughly investigate such allegations to ensure justice is served.”
Defense lawyer Ron Peters argued Tuesday that Tyler “has worked all his life and supported his family. That’s what distinguishes him” from his co-defendants. “It was an instantaneous crime brought on by bad judgment fueled by a night of drinking.”
Peters also argued that his client’s criminal history, which is one element of a sentence calculation, was overstated because the probation officer included a previous misdemeanor for drunken driving.
Mendez was not persuaded.
“I have taken all these factors into consideration, and I agree with the probation officer that there aren’t any factors that would warrant” a lighter sentence, the judge said.
According to court papers, the mixed-race couple drove into the parking lot at approximately 10:45 p.m. on April 18, 2011. Jackson walked up to the passenger side of the car and punched the man twice in the head through the car’s open window, the court papers reflect. At the same time, the papers show, Hammett opened the driver’s door and kicked the woman in the chest. Seconds later, Tyler smashed the car’s windshield with a crowbar, spraying the car’s interior with shattered glass.
The woman managed to take refuge in the convenience store, while the three assailants descended upon the male and beat him in the parking lot. He sustained abrasions on his right forearm and knees, and the woman suffered bruising to her chest.
The victims, who are not identified in court papers, were strangers to the men who set upon them.
Hammett, who has a “white power” tattoo across his abdomen, was sentenced in March to seven years and three months in prison. He was previously convicted of an unprovoked assault on a 72-year-old African American man.
Jackson, who has “white power” tattooed in block letters down his shins, was sentenced in April to a term of five years and 10 months.
Following the incident, according to court documents, Tyler engaged in a brief conversation with an African American woman who is a friend of the victims and witnessed the savage attack.
She asked Tyler: “What is your problem?” He responded that his “problem” was “people like you.”
Call The Bee’s Denny Walsh, (916) 321-1189.