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The LGBT Hate Crimes Project: James Maestas

This entry is part 20 of 53 in the series lgbt hate crimes project

How does a night out with friends and a late night dinner at Denny’s end up putting you in the hospital? Well, it can happen, if you happen to be gay.

I blogged about the gay-bashing of James Maestas in March of 2005, shortly after it happened, and followed up in a fit of pique when the two main bashers got 90 day sentences. It seemed outrageous to me at the time. (Particularly after another brutal gay bashing in New Mexico, which is now also on my list of hate crimes to research and document.) After all, Maestas wasn’t doing anything more than standing outside enjoying a cigarette with friends, when he happened upon the men who would change his life in ways he’ll no doubt live with for much longer than 90 days.

And all he did was answer a question. And touch one of them in a way the attacker decided was “flirtatious.” As with the cases of Dwan Prince, Roberto Duncanson, or even the “gay panic” related cases of Jason Gage and Richie Phillips. And what kind of touch was it?

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One of the six men involved in the attack on Maestas asked each member of Maestas’ group of friends if they were gay. Maestas and Joshua Stockham answered in the affirmative, at which point the attacker in question starts smacking Maestas in the forehead, not hard, but menacingly as Stockham described it. Now, you’re probably asking the same thing that occurred to me: Who in their right mind just starts smacking some total stranger in the head for no apparent reason?

Well. The first part of the question pretty much answers the second part of the question. But here’s another. What would you do if someone started, out of the blue, smacking you in the head? You want to make them stop, and maybe put some distance between them and you. Which is what Maestas did when he placed a hand on the smacker’s chest and gently pushed him away.

That is what the guy interpreted as flirtatious.

That is why six men threw rocks at the car Maestas and his friends drove away in .

That is why six men jumped in to a car and followed Maestas and his friends to their hotel, after one of them told the other five where the group was staying.

That’s why two of them left James Maestas lying in a pool of his own blood, while two of them looked on and cheered them on, after one of them told them where to find the “faggots,” and one of them agreed to drive.

That’s why all of them made sure that James Maestas ended up unconscious in the hospital with a concussion, and that he had to learn how to walk and how to dress himself all over again.

Because he touched one of them; to stop one of them from touching him.

James Maestas is a Latino gay man from Santa Fe, New Mexico. On February 27, 2005, Maestas and companion Joshua Stockham were beaten by six young men who screamed anti-gay epithets at them. The attackers followed Maestas and friends from the restaurant where the encounter began. The six young men who attacked Maestas and Stockham were the first prosecuted under New Mexico’s new hate crimes law.

Background

Free Image Hosting at allyoucanupload.comMaestas, 21, graduated from Santa Fe High School and worked as a dancer.1) On February 27, 2005, Maestas met Joshua Stockham, 23, at a downtown Santa Fe nightclub. After the club closed, Maestas, Stockaham, and a group of friends, went to Denny’s restaurant in downtown Santa Fe. They were waited on by David Trinidad, 17.2)

On that same night, Gabriel Maturin, Issa Medina, Joseph Cano, Paul Montoya, and Jonathan Valdez gathered for a night of partying at a Best Western Hotel in Santa Fe. At 3:00 a.m., they decided to go to Denny’s restaurant for a meal; the same Denny’s where Maestas and his group were eating.3)

After finishing their meal, Maestas, Stockham and the rest of their group stepped outside of the restaurant to smoke cigarettes. At that point they were approached by Maturin, Medinas and their group.

The Attack

The Meeting

Stockham said that at some point Maturin, 20, asked each member of Maestas’ group if they were gay, but didn’t focus on Stockham and Maestas when they said they were gay. Maturin approached Maestas and began smacking him in the forehead lightly, but in a way Stockham described as menacing. Stockham said Maestas them pushed Maturin away, but that was the only time he saw Maestas touch any of the other men.

Maturin would later tell police that he became offended when Maestas or Stockham put his hand on his chest.

When Maestas group left the Denny’s parking lot, they heard several loud bangs, and realized that the men had thrown rocks at their car. One of the women in the car called 911 on her cell phone to report the rock throwing. 4)

The Chase

At that point Trinidad, finished his shift and came outside. He knew Maturin and his group and joined in the rock throwing.5) While waiting on Maestas and his group in the restaurant, Trinidad learned where they were staying, and suggested to Maturin and his group that they chase after Maestas and Stockham. Cano, knowing why they were chasing Maestas and Stockham, drove the other five men.6) Both Cano and Trinidad said that the men were “pumped up” about attacking Maestas and Stockham.

The Beating

When Meastas and his group arrived at La Quinta Inn, Stockham said Maturin and his group were not behind them. The rest of their group went upstairs to a hotel room, while Maestas and Stockham stayed downstairs. The police had told the young woman who called 911 to wait for them in the hotel lobby. Stockham and Maestas decided to wait with her. They were walking across the parking lot when Stockham saw Maturin and Medina running toward them.

Maturin yelled an anti-gay epithet and punched Stockham in the eye and on his forehead. Stockham and the young woman ran toward the hotel lobby, and Maestas ran in the opposite direction.

Maturin later told police that Medina, 19, stood over Maestas and repeatedly punched him in the face and head. Maturin said that he also struck Maestas.7) Witnesses told police that during the beating the attackers yelled “Let’s (mess) these faggots up!”, 8) and repeatedly called Maestas and Stockham “faggots” during the beating. 9)

When Stockton emerged from the hotel lobby, he saw Maestas lying near a stairwell, bleeding, and badly beaten. Maestas’ breathing was labored until someone sat him upright. 10)

Arrests

Witnesses to the beating told police that the attackers got into a black SUV. Police tracked the SUV and brought in witnesses who identified the occupants as the men who attacked Maestas and Stockton. Police arrested Maturin and Medina, an charged them with aggravated battery, simple battery, and conspiracy. Trinidad faced similar charges in Santa Fe Children’s Court.

A detective said that since the attack was obviously motivated by sexual orientation it could be classified as a hate crime.11)

The Aftermath

Community Reponse

Unconscious, Maestas was taken to St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe. Maestas suffered a broken nose and a concussion. He was kicked so hard that the food in his stomach came up into his throat, and stomach acid burned his lungs. He had also aspirated his own blood, and required the help of a respirator to breath. 12)

On March 5, 300 people gathered at a vigil in support of Maestas. The vigil was attended by Police Chief Beverly Lennen and Governor Bill Richardson. During his remarks Richardson said, “What happened to James Maestas should never happen anywhere, on any planet. We as a society have got to find ways to end hatred.”13)

After being unconscious for several days, Maestas awoke, asked his family for a mirror, and after examining his face said “That’s the fattest lip I’ve ever seen.”14)

Maestas was released from the hospital on March 7, 2005. He had pneumonia, which he contracted in the hospital due to the damage to his lungs sustained from the beating.15) He suffered facial trauma, and had to learn how to walk and talk again, as well as how to perform every day tasks like dressing himself.16)

On March 9 2005, the Santa Fe City Council passed a resolution condemning the hate crime against Maestas and Stockham, and declaring that city employees would facilitate roundtables to address the problems of hatred and prejudice, and their eradication. When word got out that the resolution would be introduced in the city council meeting, over 100 community groups asked to be listed as co-sponsors.17)

Also in March 2005, Fred Phelps issued a press release announcing that he and members of his Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, KS, would travel to Santa Fe picket government offices prosecuting Maestas’ attackers, and churches they considered to pro-gay. The release announced that the group would picket churches on April 17, and government offices on April 18.18)

In early April 2005, an anonymous woman walked into St.Vincent Regional Medical Center and wrote a check for $35,000 towards Maestas’ medical bills. The Love Conquers Hate Fund also raised more than $10,000 for Maestas’ medical bills, which were estimated at about $50,000.19)

Indictments & Arraignments

On March 11, 2005, the grand jury returned the following indictments against Maestas’ attackers:20)

* Joseph Cano, 19: Aggravated battery, Conspiracy, Contributing to delinquency of a minor, Criminal damage to property , with Hate Crimes Act enhancement on all charges.
* Gabriel Maturin, 20: Aggravated battery, Battery, Conspiracy, Contributing to delinquency of a minor, Criminal damage to property, with Hate Crimes Act enhancement on all charges.
* Isaia Medina, 19: Aggravated battery, Conspiracy, Contributing to delinquency of a minor, Criminal damage to property, Kidnapping, with Hate Crimes Act enhancement on all charges.
* Paul Montoya, 20: Aggravated battery, Conspiracy, Contributing to delinquency of a minor , Criminal damage to property, with Hate Crimes Act enhancement on all charges.
* David Trinidad, 17: Aggravated battery, Battery, Conspiracy, Criminal damage to property, with Hate Crimes Act enhancement on all charges.
* Jonathan Valdez, 23: Aggravated battery, Conspiracy, Contributing to delinquency of a minor, Criminal damage to property, with Hate Crimes Act enhancement on all charges.

(In 2003, New Mexico passed hate crimes legislation that added an extra year to sentences for bias-related crimes.)21)

On March 18, Maturin, Trinidad, Montoya, Valdez, and Cano were arraigned and all pleaded innocent to the charges against them. Medina pleaded innocent to the charges against him a week earlier.22)

Pleas & Deals

On August 6, 2005, prosecutors offered plea deals five of the six men charged in the beating of Maestas and Stockham.23)

On August 23, 2005, Trinidad pleaded guilty to aggravated battery, battery, conspiracy and criminal damage to property. Trinidad’s lawyer said he decided to change his plea because he was with the other five men charged in the case, and told them where Maestas and Stockham were staying, which made him an accessory to the crime even though there was no evidence that he took part in the beating. Trinidad was also sentenced to 2 1/2 years for parole violation stemming from his rape of a four year male relative.24)

On December 7, 2005, District Court Judge Michael Vigil ruled that Trinidad would be sentenced as an adult. He had already spent a year at a sex offender treatment center and undergone seven months of outpatient treatments. Because Trinidad continued to re-offend after successfully completing those programs – bringing brass knuckles to school and getting pulled over for careless driving – Judge Vigil said Trinidad might not make a good candidate for treatment. 25)

On January 20, 2006, Judge Vigil dismissed charges against Montoya and Valdez because prosecutors did not notify them that they were targets of a grand jury investigation ten days before the jury met, as legally required. Prosecutors mailed notices to Montoya and Valdez on March 1 and the jury met on March 10. Instead of a grand jury, Vigil would decide in a preliminary hearing whether enough probably cause existed to charge Montoya and Valdez.26)

On February 11, 2006, Judge Vigil ruled that probably cause existed to charge Montoya and Valdez with aggravated battery causing great bodily harm, conspiracy, and criminal damage to property. Vigil decided there was no basis to charge them with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, because Trinidad was 17 at the time of the attack. Vigil said he did not believe the defendants contributed to Trinidad’s delinquency, and that Trinidad was a primary instigator of the attack. At the hearing, Cano testified that he drove the group from from Denny’s to La Quinta Inn, where the attack took place. He said that Montoya and Valdez did not take part in the beating, but watched it from about 10 feet away. In earlier statements to police, Cano said that he, Montoya and Valdez cheered Maturin and Medina on as they beat Maestas and Stockham.27)

Sentencing

On April 6, 2006, all six men involved in the attack on Maestas and Stockham appeared in court. Judge Michael Vigil ordered Maturin and Medina to each undergo a 60 day psychological exam at New Mexico State Penitentiary before deciding their sentences. “You need to see the inside of a penitentiary,” the judge said, ”… to see where you will live your life if this kind of activity continues.28)

The judge ordered Trinidad to undergo a 15-day evaluation before sentencing. If sentenced as a juvenile, Trinidad would have been committed to the state until his 21st birthday. At the time of the beating, Trinidad was on probation for a conviction involving his raping a four year old male relative.29) On September 4, 2006, Maturin and Medina pleaded guilty to aggravated battery, causing great bodily harm. Cano faced a possible 2.5 years for driving the attackers to the hotel.30) Trinidad pleaded guilty in juvenile court to aggravated battery, conspiracy and criminal damage to property.31)

On June 16, 2006, the last of the sex men charged with the beating of Maestas and Stockham were sentenced.32) The sentences of all six men were as follows:

* Maturin and Medina were sentenced to 90 days in Santa Fe County jail, followed by a year of house arrest during which they would spend weekends in jail, and five years probation. They were also required to perform 500 hours of community service, including talking to high school and college students about tolerance, completing a curriculum on tolerance, and working with Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. They were also ordered to pay restitution to the victims, and participate in victim-offender mediation if the victims wanted.
* Trinidad was sentenced to at least 10 months in a sex-offender program for adults, followed by five months probation. If he failed to complete that program, he could be sentenced to up to 7 1/2 years.
* Valdez, Montoya, and Cano received deferred sentences of three years probation – meaning that charges will be dismissed if they successfully complete probation – during which they will have to adhere to a strict no-tolerance policy or face 2 1/2 years in prison. They were also ordered to complete 500 hours of community service, a curriculum on tolerance, pay restitution to the victims, and participate in victim-offender mediation if the victims wanted.

Maestas said he had plans to begin classes as Santa Fe Community College, and that he hoped he could sit down one day and have a friendly talk with Maturin and Medina.33)

The men were the first to be sentenced under New Mexico’s hate crimes law, passed in 2003, which added a year to any prison sentence.34)

Series NavigationThe LGBT Hate Crimes Project: Danny OverstreetThe LGBT Hate Crimes Project: Daniel Fetty

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