by Chris Branam, Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
(LITTLE ROCK, Ark., Aug. 7) -- A three-judge appeals panel ruled Monday there was sufficient evidence to convict a Green Forest man under a federal hate crime law.
The 8th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in St. Louis ruled Monday that Frankie Maybee, who is serving an 11-year prison term at a medium-security federal correctional facility in Louisiana, violated the 2009 Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
The panel, in a unanimous decision, also upheld the act, a law that Congress approved under the power of the 13th Amendment, which calls for abolishing vestiges of slavery. The judges found that attacking someone because of his or her ethnic background is constitutionally prohibited under the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
"Certainly we are pleased with the ruling," said Conner Eldridge, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Arkansas. "We feel, as we have since we brought the case, that the facts supported the conviction," said Eldridge, whose office was assisted by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.
"This case continues to send a strong signal that these kinds of crimes are going to be aggressively pursued in Arkansas and across the country," he said.
Maybee, 21, was the first person in the nation to be convicted by a jury under the law after he used a pickup to force a car off U.S. 412 near Alpena in June 2010, injuring five Hispanic men. The following May, a jury in Harrison found Maybee guilty of six counts of violating the law. A month later, Maybee asked for an acquittal or a new trial, citing insufficient evidence against him.
In July 2011, U.S. District Court Judge Jimm L. Hendren denied the request, setting up Maybee's appeal to the 8th Circuit. Hot Springs attorney Byron Rhodes, who represented Maybee in his appeal, was on a cruise in China and unavailable for comment on Monday, according to his office. Rhodes argued there wasn't evidence to convict Maybee on the hate crime charge and that the hate crime act is unconstitutional because Congress exceeded its authority by enacting the law.
Rhodes and Thomas Chandler, an attorney for the Justice Department, presented oral arguments June 15 before 8th Circuit judges James B. Loken of Minneapolis, Raymond W. Gruender of St. Louis and Duane Benton of Kansas City, Mo. The judges agreed that Maybee and two other men deliberately attacked the other vehicle after a confrontation in a convenience store parking lot.
Sean Popejoy, also of Green Forest, pleaded guilty for his role in the attack and testified against Maybee at trial. Popejoy is serving a four-year sentence.
Jeannine Bell, a professor at the Maurer School of Law at Indiana University and a hate crimes expert, said she wasn't surprised by Monday's ruling. Although she wasn't familiar with the specific facts of Maybee's case, Bell said in a telephone interview from her Bloomington office that prosecutors have tended to be reluctant to charge individuals with hate crimes unless they have the facts on their side.
"The cases that are actually charged are very, very solid cases," she said. "This was a tight case. We know that courts are very, very reluctant to overturn convictions in cases that don't have flaws."