State District Judge Michael Vigil declined Friday to send the two men most culpable in the beating of two gay men last year to the state penitentiary.
"You both would be ruined if I sent you to prison," Vigil told Isaia Medina, 20, and Gabriel Maturin, 21. "I would be throwing you away. I don’t want to do that."
Instead, Vigil sentenced Medina and Maturin to 90 days in the Santa Fe County jail, followed by a year of house arrest during which they will have to spend weekends in jail. After that, each man will spend five years on probation and have to perform 500 hours of community service, which will include completing a curriculum on tolerance, talking to high school and college students about tolerance and working with the group, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
My gut says they’re getting off way too easy, especially considering that they left Maestas clinging to life after the attack.
Maestas apparently was kicked so hard the food in his stomach came up his throat and went into his lungs, Rosen said. Stomach acid badly burned his lungs, she said, and he is breathing with the help of a respirator.
He has been running a fever and must be monitored closely, because the risk of infection is high, Rosen said.
Maestas’ face and mouth are bruised and swollen, she said. “They haven’t even been able to see if he has all his lower teeth because his lower lip is so mangled.”
While a brain scan didn’t reveal any damage, she said, it’s too early to tell for sure. Maestas has not regained consciousness, and doctors are keeping him sedated, she said.
Doctors don’t know whether he will suffer permanent damage from the attack if he pulls through, Rosen said.
He spent eight days in a coma, suffered facial trauma and had to learn to walk and talk all over again. He’s still recovering physically from the attack. For this, no one goes to prison. Instead they get 90 days, a year’s house arrest, and community service. They’ll actually spend less time serving their sentence than Maestas will spend recovering from the attack eighteen months ago.
But what’s most amazing is the reasoning behind the judge’s decision, because he seems to shift the blame from Medina and Maturin onto the shoulders of social forces to big to fit into a prison cell.
"What’s most difficult for this court to try and figure out is where this hate came from," the judge said. "People are not born bigots; they’re not born with hate coming from their mouths."
Vigil said such behavior is learned and pointed to some churches as the source of hatred toward gays.
"Where did they learn this was OK?" Vigil asked. "Who in their environment condoned this conduct?"
Of course, no one wants to think that anyone would condone an attack like Maestas suffered. But don’t we? What else can you call it when you single out a group of people for discrimination, and attempt to make them legally less than equal citizens? How do you do that and not send a clear message that people in this group don’t deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect as everyone else?
Did the guys who beat up Meastas hear fag jokes at home or at school, and hear them go unchallenged? Did they listen to music that glorified anti-gay violence? Did they hear sermons like those of Willie Wilson, Eddie Long, or Alfred Owens?Did they believe Jerry Fallwell and Pat Robertson when the two said gays were to blame for 9/11? Possibly. And could any of the above or anything like it have taught them to see James Maestas and others like him as unworthy of being treated with dignity and respect, and perhaps even deserving of the violence perpetrated against them? Probably.
Like I’ve said before, you can’t. If you condone discrimination and seek to write inequality into law, then you condone what happened to James Maestas or Gwen Arujo or Sakia Gunn or Kevin Aviance or Lucas Dawson or Dwan Prince or J.R. Warren or Brandon Teena or Danny Overstreet or Barry Winchell or Billy Jack Gaither or Bill Clayton and others. You can’t make someone "less than" and not condone them being treated as such in the extreme; at least not without engaging in some serious self evasion of the mind.
The words of the attackers pretty much sum it up.
"I hope one day James and his family can forgive me," Medina said.
Said Maturin, "We’re good kids. That wasn’t us."
They were good kids, as were most of the people responsible for the attacks mentioned above. At least, they would probably all say they before they became perpetrators of anti-gay violence. They were good people who were taught by good people that gay people aren’t good people and thus shouldn’t be treated as good people.
And they’re "salvageable." So, they’ll get 90 days, house arrest, and community service.