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2 teens sentenced in cross-burning at pastor’s home

The Seattle Times, USA
Apr. 17, 2004
Christopher Schwartzen • Sunday April 18, 2004

EVERETT For a brief time yesterday, the courtroom at the Denney Juvenile Justice Center became an impromptu classroom.

The subject: the history of hate crimes against blacks in the United States. The pupils: two Arlington teens who burned a cross outside the home of an African-American pastor.

“These boys might not know this, but from the (post-Civil War) Reconstruction Period to 1968 there were 3,445 lynchings of African Americans,” said Prosecuting Attorney Dave Kurtz. He noted that lynchings were often preceded by burning a cross.

“(Cross-burnings) can bring terror, be a precursor to violence, or spawn filthy nonsense,” Kurtz said.

When the lesson was over, the 16-year-old boys offered tearful apologies for their March 24 act outside the Arlington home of Pastor Jason Martin.

Judge Gerald Knight then sentenced each of the cousins to 30 days in detention, 72 hours of community service and ordered each to pay $100 to the state’s victim’s fund.

Knight also suggested the boys research racism, cross-burnings and the civil-rights movement as part of their probation, and perhaps write a paper on what they’ve learned.

With credit for the time they’ve already served in Denney Youth Center and good behavior, the boys are expected to be released Tuesday. Their community service, which most likely will consist of removing graffiti, will take place during the next nine months.

“They want to get on with it, get on with their life,” said the father of one of the boys, who agreed with the idea of writing a history paper. “They certainly learned they screwed up, but I don’t think they understand all this history.”

The Seattle Times usually doesn’t name defendants charged as juveniles.

The teens, who were charged as minors, told police they placed a large cross on the lawn of Martin’s home in the upscale Arlington neighborhood of Gleneagle and lit it on fire because of a dispute with Martin’s 17-year-old son, court papers read. Martin’s son attends Arlington High School, and the two teens are recent dropouts from the school.

The teens told police they did not consider the act racist but just a prank. They also admitted to driving a pickup over the Martins’ lawn about a week earlier.

The boys turned themselves in to police three days after the cross-burning.

Martin, who sat in the courtroom yesterday with his wife and one of his sons, made a brief statement, expressing forgiveness for their actions.

“I only hope you guys learned something from this,” Martin told the two teens. “And I hope I’ll be able to help you guys further in your walk of life.”

But Martin also asked Judge Knight to impose the strictest sentence possible against the boys. Instead, Knight gave both teens a stern warning.

“You better hope that nobody commits further crimes of hate against the Martin family,” Knight said. “You very well could be held responsible for their actions.”

Since the cross-burning, there have been events in Arlington to promote racial harmony. Martin, pastor of Jesus is Lord Life Tabernacle in Marysville, has met with officials, including Gov. Gary Locke, to promote cultural programs as a way to end racism.

The boys’ attorneys said the teens plan to earn their GEDs and attend community college. Both defense attorneys asked that the boys’ records be cleared of the felony charge after a successful probation period.

But Knight denied the request.

“I don’t think people of noncolor can have any idea of the impact (of a cross-burning) on an African American,” Knight said. “Hate against a race may be forgiven, but it cannot be forgotten or tolerated in a civilized society.”

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