3 alleged white supremacists convicted of federal hate crimes

HOUSTON – Three alleged white supremacists who violently beat an African-American man while he waited at a Houston bus stop have been found guilty of a federal hate crime.

On Monday, a federal jury convicted Charles Cannon, 26, Michael McLaughlin, 41, and Brian Kerstetter, 32, of a federal hate crime charge related to the racially motivated assault of 29-year-old Yondell Johnson last summer.

The defendants were found guilty of violating the Matthew Shepard Act and the James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was enacted in October 2009. The evidence at trial established that on August 13, 2011, the defendants approached Johnson at a Houston bus stop and at least one defendant referred to him using a racial slur. The trio then surrounded and attacked the victim by punching and kicking him in the face, head and body.

The defendants were arrested at the scene after a passerby called 911. All three defendants had tattoos known to reflect an affiliation with white supremacist groups, say officials. Federal prosecutors dismissed charges against a fourth suspect, Joseph Staggs, who testified against the other three.

“Today’s convictions…show that hate crimes are far too common in this country,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division. “The department will continue to use every available tool to identify and prosecute hate crimes whenever and wherever they occur.”

“We hope today’s convictions send a powerful public message,” added FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen L. Morris. “The Matthew Shepherd and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is a tool the FBI will use to aggressively investigate and prosecute hate crimes as felony offenses.”

The three defendants each face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for July 16.