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Is 16 years in prison enough for an unprovoked racist slashing attack?

Ronnell Hughes, a 47-year-old black man, was at an Arby’s just off Interstate 84 on the Oregon-Idaho border to apply for a job. The date was December 21, 2019. Minutes later, he would be rushed by ambulance to a local hospital, then airlifted to Boise for emergency surgery on stab wounds to his neck.

Levi Nolan Strauss, a 25-year-old trucker and self-professed white supremacist, didn’t know Hughes or anything about him. He just didn’t like black people. That’s what he told the Arby’s workers who wrestled him away from Hughes, and also told the police after he was taken away.

He would later say black people are lacking in morality and aren’t good people. 

He attacked Hughes from behind, and without warning. News media called it an “ambush.” Hughes was lucky to survive. He “required months of physical therapy to regain his voice and motion in his neck and arm.”

The incident occurred in an area famous for its conservative politics, but the local community rallied behind Hughes, and held fundraisers for his medical expenses. Strauss, who worked out of Colorado Springs, Colorado, was a stranger there. He happened to wander into the Arby’s because it’s next to a truck stop.

Strauss pled guilty to a federal hate crime involving intent to kill. On Thursday, September 9, 2021, a federal judge sentenced him to 16 years in prison plus 5 years of supervised release. This article in NewsOne, a news website catering to black audiences, argues it isn’t enough.

In Oregon, under state law, aggravated attempted murder carries a mandatory minimum 10-year sentence (see here); Attorneys.com, an attorney referral website, says (here) that

“First-degree attempted murder carries greater penalties and often means a life sentence with the possibility of parole. Offenders typically spend at least 10 years in prison …. Second-degree attempted murder penalties usually range from five years to 15 years in many states, depending on whether serious injury was inflicted.”

The main difference between first-degree and second-degree attempted murder is premeditation. Strauss’s crime was impulsive, and premeditation might have been hard to prove. At his sentencing, his lawyer said he has mental health issues and was off his meds. So, at face value, his sentence doesn’t look light by normal sentencing standards. Still, it somehow feels that way, in light of what he did and why he did it.

For what it’s worth, Strauss told the judge he’s sorry. It seems they always are, when facing the consequences of their actions and trying to get leniency from a judge.

Read story here and here.

Photos: Hughes (above left); Strauss’s mugshot (above right) and arrest (below).

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