Judge Rafael Diaz of the D.C. Superior Court sentenced Robert Lee Hannah to the maximum of 180 days, on Wednesday, Oct. 14, for “simple assault” for his involvement in the death of Tony Randolph Hunter.
Hunter’s mother, Queen Yarborough, his sister and stepfather traveled to Washington from North Carolina for the sentencing Wednesday morning. They sat in the front row of the courtroom, weeping and holding photographs of Hunter, a 37-year-old gay man who lived in Clinton, Md., who died Sept. 17, 2008, from injuries he sustained during a Sept. 10 attack by Hannah, while en route to a gay bar in the Shaw neighborhood.
”I just want to tell the family I’m sorry,” Hannah said when given an opportunity by the judge to speak.
Representing Hannah, filling in for defense attorney Joseph Caleb, Lloyd Nolan said Hannah is remorseful and wishes the incident never happened.
”He believes if he had more time to think he would have reacted differently,” Nolan said, adding that Hannah had an instinctual reaction to ”something inappropriate that happened,” referring to the defense claim that Hunter initiated the assault by groping Hannah.
Nolan asked Diaz for ”credit” of two-months, for the time Hannah served immediately after his arrest. Diaz agreed to apply that credit to Hannah’s sentencing.
In his final statement, U.S. Attorney Kevin Flynn said he and officers from the Metropolitan Police Department have worked on this case for the past nine months.
”We came to the conclusion that we could not prove a manslaughter took place…. It is a misdemeanor, but a crime of violence against an innocent victim … and this case has an impact which far proceeds beyond a misdemeanor.
”[Hannah's] actions had an impact far greater than what’s typically before the court [in a simple assault case],” Flynn said, adding that Hannah’s record since being arrested has been ”spotty at best, and defiant at worst.” Since his arrest, Hannah has also been charged with shoplifting.
About three weeks prior to sentencing, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia (USAO-DC) released a 14-page sentencing memorandum, explaining why the government would not seek a charge of manslaughter in Hunter’s death, citing lack of witness testimony and evidence that Hunter’s fatal injuries were the result of falling to the pavement after Hunter’s blows, rather than the blows themselves.
The document also reported that witnesses claim that immediately following the attack, Hannah and others stood over Hunter chanting ”The Terrace,” before leaving the scene. That’s believed to be a reference to Wood Terrace, the community where Hannah lives, near the 1300 block of Eighth Street NW where he attacked Hunter.
Responding to that claim, Diaz told Hannah those actions were ”silly” and that they encourage violence.
”That’s the kind of mentality that gets people into trouble,” Diaz said.
Diaz told Hannah that he hopes he learns at least one thing from this matter: ”You have to consider other options than violence. … You are lucky not to have been charged with murder.”
Before announcing his sentencing, Diaz briefly skimmed victim impact statements from Hunter’s family, as well as from Chris Farris and Todd Metrokin, co-chairs of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV).
Farris attended the sentencing and met Hunter’s mother for the first time outside of the courtroom after sentencing.
”I wanted her to know that I do not believe what they say her son did,” Farris said, referring to the defense’s claim that Hunter groped Hannah before being attacked. ”And I will continue to do everything I can to make sure that the truth gets out there.”
Farris called the sentencing ”a hollow victory.”
”Even while we sat in that courtroom, there was a tone that somehow the victim did something to start this. I want to say categorically, unequivocally, that that is a lie,” Farris said. ”The defendant has come up with an obvious and transparent, self-serving defense that our criminal justice system has tragically bought into. It’s repulsive, and every single person in this city should be scared.”
Farris said he would have preferred the full sentence of 180 days without the credit of 60 days.
”An innocent man is dead, and all the defendant had to say was that ‘a gay guy touched me.’ And he’s going to get four months in jail and he has to pay a $50 court fine by June 14. It’s disgusting.”