Jury finds man guilty in NM swastika branding case

AP News
Posted: May 06, 2011 11:35 PM
Jury finds man guilty in NM swastika branding case

The first of three defendants accused of branding a swastika into the arm of a mentally disabled Navajo man was convicted Friday of conspiracy to commit aggravated battery.

An 11th District Court jury in Aztec found William Hatch, 29, guilty after deliberating for much of the day.

Jurors acquitted Hatch of more serious charges, including kidnapping and aggravated battery causing great bodily harm.

"It's a win," defense attorney Eric Morrow told the Farmington Daily Times after the verdict. "The emotion in this case is very powerful."

The newspaper said all 12 jurors declined comment following the trial.

Hatch and two others were accused of branding Vincent Kee, 22, shaving the back of his head with a swastika symbol and using a marker to scribe obscenities on his backside in April 2010.

Hatch's co-defendants face trials later. All three also are to be tried in federal court as the first in the nation to be charged under a 2009 law that makes it easier for the federal government to prosecute people for hate crimes.

Kee testified Thursday his skin felt like it was melting as someone burned the Nazi symbol on his arm, according to the Daily Times.

Hatch declined to take the stand before the defense rested its case Thursday, the newspaper reported.

The federal case had been scheduled to go to trial in April but prosecutors decided to wait until the state trials were complete. A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Albuquerque said the trial has been tentatively set for Oct. 3.

If convicted under the federal hate crime statute, each defendant could face prison terms of up to 10 years. The possible sentence could increase to life if prosecutors prove kidnapping occurred.


Information from: The Daily Times, http://www.daily-times.com