An overwhelming majority of D.C. Council members got behind a resolution today calling on federal prosecutors to charge James W. von Brunn with violating the city's hate crime statue in addition to his federal charges.
Federal prosecutors have charged von Brunn, the 88-year-old white supremacist accused of killing a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial, with first-degree murder and weapons charges. Authorities have not yet decided on whether to also charge him with a federal hates crimes violation.
At this morning's council meeting, Council members noted there is nothing preventing prosecutors from also charging von Brunn with local crimes. Council member Michael Brown (I-At large) introduced a resolution calling on prosecutors to charge him with the violating the District's hate-crimes law.
"We as a country and city cannot and should not tolerate this," Brown said.
In the District, the so-called "bias-related crime" act currently prohibits prejudice based on the "actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, family responsibility, physical handicap, matriculation, or political affiliation of a victim." A violator can be charged up to one and half times the maximum penalty for the crime committed during the act of violence.
The resolution, which the Council will take up a later date, also calls on Congress to approve the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act adding sexual orientation to the federal hate crimes law
"This is an important statement from the Council," said Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At large), a cosponsor. "One, the federal hate crimes law needs to be expanded. Second, if we have our own hate crimes law, it ought to be enforced."
However, von Brunn could face harsher justice because he is being charged by federal
authorities instead of local prosecutors. He could be eligible for capital punishment if he is convicted of his federal charges. But capital punishment is banned for local charges under D.C. law.