Friday, August 24, 2012

In Pittsburgh case, white teen sentenced to 11 1/2 to 23 months in jail for ... - Pittsburgh Post Gazette

In December 2010, 21-year-old Alonzo Fulton had just moved into his first apartment on his own in Millvale. He had held the same job for a year and a half and was doing well for himself.

Sometimes, the young black man would call his mother and tell her that the people in the neighborhood kept yelling racial slurs at him, but Marjorie Gallagher told her son nothing would come of it.

But on the evening of Dec. 2, as Mr. Fulton walked down Grant Avenue, he was attacked. Two white males were yelling obscenities and using racial epithets. They threatened to kill him, and then one of them, Ian McPherson, who was 17, charged at him and stabbed him twice in the abdomen.

Mr. Fulton suffered a punctured lung and other injuries, but mentally he suffered more than that. He became angry. He lost his job. He lost his apartment, and because of his volatile personality, his family members couldn't allow him to live with them.

On Friday, in an emotionally charged courtroom where he lifted his shirt and showed the judge his scars, he watched the man who stabbed him -- who pleaded guilty to both aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation -- be sentenced to 111/2 to 23 months at the Allegheny County Jail.

"He tried to kill my son, and he got less time than it took for him to go trial," Ms. Gallagher shouted at Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge David R. Cashman as she and her son were led out of the courtroom.

Later, in the hallway, Ms. Gallagher blasted the sentence for Mr. McPherson.

"No matter how you look at it, he took my son's life," she said. "It doesn't make sense to me. It's unfathomable."

Mr. Fulton, whose hurt and anger were palpable, told his mom to stop talking.

"It's over. This is how life is," he said.

Even before the sentencing began, Mr. Fulton was having trouble. He sat in the back row of the courtroom, with his head down or resting in his arms. He fidgeted while his mother read a book.

As the hearing got under way, three people testified on behalf of Mr. McPherson, including his employer.

That man, Mark Loskamp, said the defendant had been working for him for three years in a store, and that he trusted him with a lot of money.

He told Judge Cashman the young man works with "all varieties of race," and has never had any problems.

"He's a good kid," he said. "He works with everybody equally."

At that, Mr. Fulton slapped a chair in the back of the courtroom and stormed outside.

Additional sheriff's deputies were called to the room to keep order.

A neighbor of Mr. McPherson's testified that he was a good young man who shoveled her snow and pulled weeds for her. The last witness for the defendant was Mr. McPherson's mother.

"When this night occurred, I didn't have much hope for Ian. He had lost his way," Ilona McPherson testified.

Her son had dropped out of school and had a substance abuse problem. He had been living with a 31-year-old man -- the co-defendant, Todd Stiefel -- who was a bad influence.

When the two were arrested, according to the criminal complaint, both defendants repeatedly used racial epithets when referring to Mr. Fulton and to black people, generally.

Mr. Stiefel told police they started yelling at Mr. Fulton the night of the incident to show their "white power. This started over us showing our white pride."

But after Mr. McPherson's arrest for attempted homicide -- and his release from jail paying 10 percent of a $3,000 bond -- she told the judge, her son turned his life around.

He went to rehab, graduated from high school and became a "very productive person."

"I am so blessed to think I have the son back that I raised," she said. Mr. McPherson, dressed in a dark suit, with his long, blond hair brushed back, apologized.

"I wish I could make it better," he said. "It's going to stay with me the rest of my life. Substance abuse and alcohol may have led me into it, but it was my own actions.

"I pray for God's forgiveness all the time, and I pray for Alonzo's forgiveness."

Ms. Gallagher was the first to speak on her son's behalf.

She tried to explain who he was before the attack. He had moved to Millvale because he found a nice, inexpensive apartment.

"He told me he was being harassed," Ms. Gallagher told Judge Cashman. "Instead of encouraging him to leave ... I told him those are just words. No one will do anything to you."

She was wrong.

"When Ian stabbed him, he took my son's life," she said. "We're living in the 21st century. Nobody should worry about being attacked just because of the color of his skin.

"Ian didn't know my son. He never spoke to him. He chose to try to take my son's life."

Ms. Gallagher lamented to the judge that they haven't been able to afford to get counseling for her son, and that he continues to be angry.

"What has Ian had to pay for his crime?" she asked. "My son paid with everything. He paid with everything that was good in his life."

When Mr. Fulton approached the bench to speak, he was frustrated, saying, "I can't do this. It ain't fair. He tried to kill me."

But with encouragement from Assistant District Attorney Patrick Schulte, he spoke.

"If you stabbed somebody twice, you're trying to kill them," he told Judge Cashman.

As he spoke, he swore, causing a rebuke from the judge. Mr. Fulton apologized and continued.

"Every day, I get a shower, I have to look at this," he said, lifting his black sweater with white stripes.

"I don't even know this dude. It's not right. What if your son got stabbed twice?"

Mr. Fulton told the judge the defendant should be punished with incarceration.

"If it was the other way around, I'd still be in jail. It just shows how the system is."

Initially charged with attempted homicide, Mr. McPherson pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation. The attempted homicide count was withdrawn by Mr. Schulte, he told the court, because he feared going to trial with an "emotionally fragile victim" would risk a not-guilty verdict on all counts.

Because Mr. McPherson had no criminal record, the guideline range he faced went from probation in the mitigated range to up to 30 months incarceration in the aggravated range.

A judge is permitted to go outside the recommended guidelines. Aggravated assault -- graded as a second-degree felony -- has a maximum sentence of 10 years.

As he sentenced the defendant, Judge Cashman spoke harshly.

"For the rest of your life, you're going to be branded a racist," he said. "You had no right to do what you did, and you did it because you didn't like the color of his skin.

"You didn't know him at all. The color of his skin doesn't give you the right to try and take his life."

And then he imposed the jail sentence.

Mr. Stiefel, who pleaded guilty to terroristic threats and simple assault, as well as robbery in a separate case before Judge Donald E. Machen last year, was sentenced to three to six years in state prison and is being held at the State Correctional Institution Graterford.

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