Plea Accepted

Hannah free on bond till 'simple assault' sentencing in Hunter death

by Yusef Najafi
Published on September 17, 2009, 12:00am | Comments

Exactly one year after Tony Randolph Hunter, a gay 37-year-old resident of Clinton, Md., died of injuries sustained after being attacked while en route to a Shaw-neighborhood gay bar, his attacker, Robert Lee Hannah, has pleaded guilty to one count of a simple assault, the result of a plea bargain.

The local group Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV) has criticized the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia (USAO-DC) in its handling of this case, particularly for its apparent acquiescence to claims of the so-called "gay-panic defense," failure to prosecute those with Hannah during the attack, and not immediately questioning a friend of Hunter's who witnessed the attack.

Further, Councilmember Phil Mendelson (D-At large) sent a Sept. 10 letter to Acting U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips urging Phillips to reject Hannah's plea bargain.

''There is outrage in the GLBT community that the perpetrator is not facing prison,'' Mendelson wrote, in part. ''It is preferable that the USAO go to trial with its attendant risks. … Here the greater good comes from the public airing of a trial, rather than the certainty of a sentence -- a minor sentence.''

Still, D.C. Superior Court Judge Rafael Diaz and U.S. Attorney Kevin Flynn accepted the defense's plea offer of guilt for simple assault, confirmed Sept. 17 in D.C. Superior Court.

Diaz has set the date of Hannah's sentencing for Oct. 14, during which he could be given a maximum of 180 days in jail, fined up to $1,000, or both.

At the Thursday hearing, Flynn asked Diaz to hold Hannah in jail until sentencing.

Defense attorney Joseph Caleb countered that Hannah is ''extremely reliable,'' and that his attendance record with this case is evidence of that. Caleb also argued that Hannah would not pose a threat if free until sentencing in that, according to the defense, Hunter provoked Hannah: ''He was offended by the way [Hunter] touched him. … He had a knee-jerk reaction.''

Diaz said he would allow Hannah to remain free on bond, as he had not failed to appear at any court dates.

Flynn said Hunter's family will either release a statement or make a court appearance on the day of Hannah's sentencing, and that the USAO-DC will release a memorandum prior to sentencing explaining how the case evolved to a misdemeanor charge.