Man who defaced gay pride mural must write 25-page essay on Pulse nightclub shooting before sentence
- Alexander Jerich used his truck to burn a 15-foot-long skid mark into a gay pride memorial.
- Jerich was ordered to write a 25-page essay on the massacre at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando.
- Circuit Judge Scott Suskauer didn’t formally pronounce a sentence for Jerich.
WEST PALM BEACH — When a Palm Beach County judge stepped into the courtroom on Thursday to sentence Alexander Jerich for using his truck to burn a 15-foot-long skid mark into a gay pride memorial, he said he was pretty sure what kind of character he would meet.
“I was expecting someone who displays complete disrespect for their fellow citizens,” Circuit Judge Scott Suskauer said. “A person some might call a thug or a redneck.”
Instead, the 20-year-old Jerich hung his head and cried after hearing his father recount his son’s struggles in school, his inability to make friends and his disappointment in his son’s behavior.
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When the tall, husky young man finally composed himself, he apologized for his actions but offered no real explanation for them.
“I’ve had problems in the past with fitting in,” Jerich said. “I was just trying to fit in and be accepted.”
Faced with a young man his attorney compared with Lennie, the mentally disabled man-child in the novel “Of Mice and Men,” Suskauer said he had to reconsider his assumptions about Jerich, who in March pleaded guilty to criminal mischief and reckless driving in connection with the June incident.
“This is not the person I was expecting,” Suskauer said.
Homework for the defendant
With the founder and president of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council pushing for a year-long sentence, Suskauer said he needed more time to decide an appropriate punishment.
He ordered Jerich to return to court on June 8 to learn his fate. But in the meantime, he gave Jerich a homework assignment.
Noting that Jerich seemed to have little understanding of the meaning of the rainbow-colored gay pride mural he defaced or the struggles of the LGBTQ community, he ordered him to write a 25-page essay on the 2016 massacre at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando.
In addition to researching the backgrounds of the 49 people who died and the loved ones they left behind, Suskauer told Jerich to offer his own views about why such tragedies occur.
“I want your own brief summary of why people are so hateful and why people lash out against the gay community,” he said.
While Suskauer didn’t formally pronounce a sentence, he offered strong hints about what he would and wouldn’t do.
He voiced little interest in putting Jerich behind bars for a year. Assistant State Attorney Richard Clausi suggested a 30-day sentence, an option Suskauer indicated he would consider.
Suskauer also said he had little desire to turn Jerich into a convicted felon for making an impetuous decision when he joined 30 cars that paraded through Delray Beach as part of a “President Trump Birthday Rally” that was organized by the county Republican Party.
To keep Jerich from living with the stigma of being a convicted felon, Suskauer said he planned to withhold adjudication on the charge of criminal mischief. Convicted felons' job prospects are grim, he said.
“I don’t want to do that to a young man who has his whole life ahead of him,” Suskauer said.
Further, he said, he wants Jerich to perform community service for an organization that serves the LGBTQ community.
'This is clearly a hate crime'
Rand Hoch, president of the Human Rights Council, told Suskauer that none of the groups he deals with are interested in having Jerich as a volunteer.
“They don’t want the defendant anywhere near our organization or our missions,” Hoch said.
Suskauer asked Clausi and defense attorney Robert Pasch to find a group that would be willing to work with Jerich. “It would be a great opportunity for him to learn,” Suskauer said. “I don’t think he would do any harm.”
Further, even though Hoch asked that Jerich be banned for life from the intersection he defaced, Suskauer said it might be good for the young man to be reminded of the damage he caused. He said he may order Jerich to visit the site weekly, accompanied by his father, to keep it clean.
Outside the courtroom, Hoch said he was pleased that Suskauer was taking the case seriously. The gay community was outraged when the mural was defaced two days after it was unveiled last year during Pride Month.
His group and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation contributed the $16,720 it cost to create the streetscape that celebrates the gay community. While Jerich paid the city $2,000 to have the mural repainted, Hoch said the scars are long-lasting.
“Our community has been demeaned and intimidated by the defendant’s actions,” he told Suskauer.
He said Suskauer’s sentencing decision would have been easier had State Attorney Dave Aronberg charged Jerich with a hate crime. Hoch, a lawyer, said the designation, which carries enhanced penalties, was justified.
“Aronberg screwed up,” Hoch said. “This is clearly a hate crime. It’s just not being prosecuted as such.”