Feds to decide if Kansas fire attack is hate crime

AP News
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Posted: Oct 18, 2011 4:55 PM
Feds to decide if Kansas fire attack is hate crime

The Kansas U.S. attorney was weighing federal hate crime charges Tuesday in a brutal attack on a black man investigators say was forced to the ground, doused with rubbing alcohol and set on fire by two white intruders during a predawn home invasion.

Sterling Law, 54, suffered second-degree burns to his stomach and upper legs during the Oct. 7 attack at his home in Council Grove, about 65 miles southwest of the Kansas capital of Topeka, authorities said.

A county prosecutor has already charged one suspect with aggravated assault and aggravated burglary, but U.S. attorney's office spokesman Jim Cross said the office was reviewing the case to determine if the crime is racially motivated, triggering possible other charges.

Glenn Law, Sterling Law's older brother, told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday that his brother told him the attackers shouted racial epithets as they broke into the home around 3 a.m. accompanied by a pit bull. Glenn Law said his brother has a "diminished mental capacity."

"I don't think they have threatened him in that manner before," Glenn Law said Tuesday. "I can't understand why you would set him on fire when he hasn't showed any violence toward them. That's what I don't understand. He shouldn't have been burnt like that."

One of the suspects, Isaac Wilson, 23, was being held in Morris County Jail Tuesday after failing to post bond during his first court hearing Monday. Morris County prosecutor Laura Allen provided no information on whether the second suspect had been identified.

Wilson was also charged with aggravated battery and making a criminal threat in a separate incident involving a different alleged victim. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Oct. 24 in Morris County District Court.

Doug Wilkerson, the owner of the Hays House restaurant in Council Grove where Law has worked for more than three decades, told the Topeka Capital-Journal he knew something was wrong when he failed to show up.

Glenn Law said his brother was recovering from his injuries in Council Grove and that he was looking for an assisted living arrangement either in the town or back to his home in Oakland, Calif.

"Our mother passed away seven years ago and she kept him pretty well guided," Glenn Law said. "He needs some assisted living so he can do a program every day, pay his bills, have funds to do that."

Glenn Law said his brother had never caused problems in the small Kansas town. He graduated from high school and worked hard, trying to be a good resident.

Timothy Snow, a former Council Grove resident and longtime friend of Sterling Law's, said racism was an often unspoken reality in town.

"There's nothing bad to say about him. He accepts things the way they are," Snow said. "He just assumed that's the way things are. He is a physically strong man who could have defended himself, but he said that he would be afraid he would be the one who got in trouble."