A US couple has just received long prison term Monday, February 28, following the hate crime displayed at an 8-year old black girl’s birthday party in July 2015.
The couple identified as Jose Ismael Torres and Kayla Rae Norton cried in court as they were convicted under a street gang terrorism law for harassment in Douglassville. According to an earlier report by Washington Post, the pair were among the group calling themselves “Respect the Flag” who boarded several pickup trucks mounted with Confederate and American flags.
They roamed a small city, Douglasville, west of Atlanta, harassing black drivers, customers at a Walmart and convenience store. And much worse, they stumbled upon the child’s birthday party yelling racial epithets and shout death threats.
Prosecutors said 26-year-old Torres, pointed a black pump shotgun at the partygoers, and they even threatened to kill children at the party.
Associated Press report said Judge William McClain of the Douglas County Superior Court tagged their actions as motivated by racial hatred.
The judge said:
“If you drive around town with a Confederate flag, yelling the n-word, you know how it’s going to be interpreted.
“It’s inexplicable to me that you weren’t arrested by the police that day.”
McClain sentenced Torres to 20 years, with 13 of them in prison, on charges of aggravated assault, terroristic threats and street gang terrorism. While Norton, who is the mother of Torres’s children, was sentenced to 15, serving six, for terroristic threats and street gang terrorism.
Evidence against them include eyewitnesses who made several calls to the police on that faithful day; and video footage from the party showed a parade of trucks roaring by with Confederate battle flags. Their fear inflicting action came barely a month after the Dylann Roof’s Charleston church massacre, and he also was pictured with the banner on his white supremacist website.
“Many good people in Paulding County saw you for what you are,” Justice McClain said before he handed down the sentence.
“Everywhere you went 911 call centers were flooded with calls. ‘I want to report a hate crime,'” he quoted one of the callers.
In another statement, the Douglas County District Attorney, Brian Fortner said:
“Many people tried to make the case about simply flying the Confederate Battle Flag. This case was about a group of people riding around our community, drinking alcohol, harassing and intimidating our citizens because of the color of their skin.
“This is behavior that even supporters of the Confederate battle flag can agree is criminal and shouldn’t be allowed.”
While others in the “Respect the Flag” group who were less involved in the hate crime pleaded guilty and were put into a diversion program, Torres and Norton received harsher punishments. The unmarried couple wept uncontrollably in court on Monday and Norton who’s also a mother apologized for what she’d done. She said:
“I do accept responsibility for what I’ve done. What happened to you is absolutely awful. From mother to mother, I cannot imagine having to explain what that word means.
“The worst decision I’ve ever made in my life was to not walk away when I had the chance.”
Torres and Norton are the last of 15 people charged in the confrontation, which took place in Douglasville in July 2015.