Any life taken by murder is a terrible tragedy for the victim’s family, friends and the entire community, but it can be even more emotionally grueling for the family to learn that someone they loved was targeted because of characteristics like their race or sexual orientation. Louisiana prosecutes hate crimes to deter those motivated by bias from singling out individuals for assault, physical abuse, and even murder.
Many in Louisiana are now grieving because of a high profile and heinous case involving a 17-year-old teen, Ja’Quarius Taylor of Varnado, who many believe may have been killed because he was gay and African American. Two civil rights groups, The National Black Justice Coalition and The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, have called on the FBI to support the local murder investigation to see if evidence indicates this killing was motivated by bias.
In Louisiana, it’s illegal to target someone based on their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or other factors, and if the triggering crime is a felony, the suspect will be charged with a felony hate crime. If you’re facing criminal charges after being accused of having committed a hate crime, or if you or a loved one believes you may have been the victim of a hate crime, it’s important to contact an attorney experienced in hate crimes law.
What’s Known About the Murder of This Louisiana Teen?
On Jan. 12, Taylor’s body was found in a wooded area near his Louisiana home, only an hour after his mother reported him missing. The high school senior had been shot in the head.
His mother, Tawasha Bonner, has said she believes her son may have been targeted because he was gay and black. While the local sheriff’s office has ruled this case a homicide, the investigation hasn’t yet determined a motive for the shooting. Dive teams did discover key evidence in a lake near the area where Taylor’s body was found, recovering the young man’s cell phone from the bottom of the lake. That cell phone is now being analyzed at a federal crime lab. No far, law enforcement has not been able to locate the pistol that was used.
Chief Deputy Mike Haley of the Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office said his office would vigorously investigate this murder until a suspect or suspects have been apprehended. He said:
“We have partnered with other local agencies as well as state and federal agencies to investigate the homicide and are anxious to solve it and bring closure to this family.”
Taylor’s family, relatives, and community members have started a social media movement called Justice for JD to raise awareness about the case and to call for more attention and resources to be directed toward this investigation. The Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office has also teamed up with New Orleans Crimestoppers, and they’re offering a $5,000 reward to anyone with information that leads to the arrest for Taylor’s murder.
What is a Hate Crime in Louisiana?
In Louisiana, being prosecuted for a hate crime in addition to any form of violent crime or unlawful act increases the seriousness of the charge, as well as the severity of the penalty upon a conviction. The state can move forward on a hate crimes charge if it’s determined during the investigation that the victim was chosen because of:
- Sexual orientation
- National origin or ancestry
Louisiana’s hate crime law also prosecutes those who target a public employee, including law enforcement officers, firefighter, or emergency medical services personnel. The state needs to prove that the suspect targeted the victim because they belonged to one of these groups.
The punishment for a felony hate crime is a fine of up to $5,000 and up to 5 years in jail. For a misdemeanor hate crimes charge, it’s a fine of up to $500 and up to 6 months in jail.
The most serious types of hate crimes in Louisiana are the ones involving violent crimes, such as murder, assault and battery, and armed robbery. For example, if someone is charged with vandalism and the state determines the victim was targeted due to a factor like race or religion, the case will be prosecuted as a hate crime, and that will add to your sentence and penalties.
A hate crime charge is very serious. Anyone who is arrested for a particular crime, and then has a hate crimes charge added to it, should be aware of the penalties they can face upon conviction, which is why they need the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney who can conduct their own investigation to determine whether prosecutors have the evidence to prove a hate crime charge.
Secure Quality Criminal Defense in Louisiana
If you’re facing a hate crime charge in Louisiana, it’s important to get an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. In Louisiana, a top source for criminal defense attorneys is the John D. & Eric G. Johnson Law Firm. We have more than 25 years of experience representing ordinary citizens just like you and want to help you get your life back on the right track. It’s our mission to give you the most personalized experience possible and help you have your voice heard.
Eric Johnson is respected throughout Louisiana and is known for providing solid representation that wins cases. To schedule a free consultation regarding your case, call our office at 318-377-1555 or contact us online today. We’re here to represent you!