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Wednesday, Jul 7 1999
Is This Really a Hate Crime?
If Edgar Mora had any intents and purposes on March 12 of last year as he went on his violent odyssey through San Francisco, they were rudimentary in the extreme: He was out-of-his-tree drunk, angrier than most people have a right to be, and he wanted to fight. His was not a particularly sophisticated intent, and surely not a very unusual one. The world is full of angry drunks.

Mora's rage was not applied with much specificity. He smashed bus shelter panes. He hit passing cars. He hit a homeless man. He hit a cyclist. He kept telling his girlfriend, who was accompanying him, that he wanted to go to bad parts of town so he could get out of the car and fight; he said he wanted to die several times. He fought with his parents. He smashed things around their house. He was at war with the world.

Mora's life was in the shitter, and he wanted to fight back with the only arsenal at his disposal: his fists. He hated himself. He hated everything and everyone. He wanted to be hurt himself.

Instead, Edgar Mora killed a man. He exchanged fighting words with Brian Wilmes, punched him in the jaw, and as it happened, Wilmes' head hit the ground in such a way that two days later he died of his injuries.

Mora hit Wilmes because, like the cars, the homeless man, the bus shelter, the cyclist, and the walls at his parents' house, Wilmes was in Mora's unspecified path of destruction.

Because Wilmes was wearing gay leather gear, Mora assumed, correctly, that Wilmes was a gay man, and uttered a fateful word before he punched Wilmes out. He said "faggot." How many times -- once, twice, or three times -- is a matter of dispute.

That one word, loaded as it is with differing meaning, depending on who is uttering it and for what reasons, may seal Mora's fate for the next several decades, or, perhaps, his entire life.

Instead of charging Mora with involuntary manslaughter -- the crime of unintentionally killing someone, which carries a sentence of between two and five years, and which Mora seems most deserving of -- Mora is charged with committing murder as a hate crime and now faces a potential sentence of life in prison.

District Attorney Terence Hallinan wanted to charge Mora with first-degree murder with a "special circumstance," so the DA's Office could ask for the death penalty if Mora were convicted. But the law hasn't caught up with Hallinan's blood lust just yet; the intentional murder of a member of specific classes of people -- notably, police officers -- can result in a death penalty. But gay people are not one of those specific classes.

Simply put, the DA wanted Mora to be executed simply because he said "faggot" when he killed a man.

Mora used other words that night. He called Wilmes and Carroll "bitches." He was evidently delusional from depression and far too much alcohol. If he said "faggot," his attorney will argue in court, it may have been that he was simply grasping in his sodden brain for yet one more thing with which to hurt Wilmes, a word, an invective, an insult, something to give his fist some extra punch. After a review of the court record, I agree; it's a real stretch to view that utterance as an announcement of a rationale for a conscious attempt to murder. In fact, I doubt if Mora was capable of forming a discrete and identifiable rationale for anything that night.

So that's all the DA has got: one word. One word could spell the difference between a young man paying for the crime he committed with a hefty prison term and then getting on with his life, or that same man spending the rest of a ruined life in jail.

How and why one word can make such a difference is an interesting story. There are no heroes and villains in this tale. Just otherwise normal human beings exercising shallow judgment.

District Attorney Terence Hallinan is overcharging the hell out of this case, apparently for the same reasons the media has never once questioned the police contention that it was a "classic" hate crime, and for the same ludicrous reasons Edgar Mora has been made co-equal to those vile slugs Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson (Matthew Shepard's killers) by local and national gay rights groups.

A gay man has been killed, and when that happens, we have very little choice here in San Francisco. We all have very specific, prescribed ways in which we are expected to act.

Forgive me if I don't go along for the ride.
I'd rather not see the moral concept and the legal framework for hate crimes devalued into dust, the way the word "racism" has been overused into impotence in this country.

Most important, I'd like to see Edgar Mora get the punishment he deserves, rather than the punishment that politics clamors for.

Let's be clear: Edgar Mora's attack on Brian Wilmes was despicable, and he deserves to be punished severely for it. But it was not a hate crime. It only passingly resembles a hate crime.

Let me spell out the entire circumstances of the crime, according to court records and sworn testimony, and I'm confident you'll see what I mean.

Edgar Mora was an angry and depressed man when March 12, 1998, rolled around. It was the first anniversary of his sister's death from cancer. The mother of his two children had recently moved to Sacramento, and he could no longer see the kids on a regular basis. He had been denied Job Corps training; he had applied to the program so he could better his employment opportunities. At the time, he was working as a warehouseman. He was 25 years old and living with his parents.

About The Author

George Cothran


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