When Is a Hate Crime Not a Hate Crime?

Anthony Fortunato, at Rikers Island prison last month.Photo: Dana Lixenberg

The plan was simple enough: Anthony Fortunato and his friends wanted some pot, and Anthony thought he knew how to get it. He said he’d done it before, lots of times. He’d meet a gay guy in a chat room and pretend to be gay, too, then flirt a while and arrange a meeting, maybe in a hotel room, then take off with their pot and their money. This time, he and his friends would all show up. Either they’d smoke with the gay guy and leave—or, if the guy didn’t have pot after all, just take his cash and run.

Anthony and his buddies, John Fox and Gary Timmins, were hanging outside a deli on Emmons Avenue in Brooklyn that October night. He was 20 and living at home while he commuted to college, and he’d been killing time since the summer with John and Gary at the piers along Sheepshead Bay, where he’d helped them bait their lines to catch blackfish in the harbor that fed into the Rockaway Inlet. On warmer evenings, they’d prowl the quiet stretch of waterfront, grab a burger at the Roll-n-Roaster, and come through the iron gate that led to the backyard of ’Nato’s place. Most of the time, his mother would be asleep, and Anthony and the others would get high. That night, though, they were without pot or money, so Anthony had an idea: “Guys, you can get high with someone that’s gay, right?” he recalls saying. “You don’t have any problems?”

They didn’t voice any objections—pot was pot—and so they all went back to Anthony’s house, where he guided them on the computer into the corridors of AOL reserved for gay men in Brooklyn. They used John’s screen name, Fisheyefox. At the keyboard together, Anthony and John clicked on one of the screen names of guys already online, Drumnbase007, to ask for a link into the chat room. Then, before they even had a chance to set the bait, up popped a message:

Drumnbase007: yo do you blaze

If they doubted Anthony before, they sure didn’t now: A guy was offering them pot before they even asked.

yeahh i blazee madddddd, they replied.

Next came the introductions. Drumnbase007 wrote, where u at. When the guys typed sheepshead bay, Drumnbase007 replied, with an implied laugh, oh word not too far.

Drumnbase007 was typing from the other end of Brooklyn, in Williamsburg, in an apartment he shared with roommates. Michael Sandy was a 28-year-old African-American designer who worked at an Ikea on Long Island during the day and played in Manhattan clubs and online at night. He was alone for the night, and he was lonely, and he was looking to meet someone and share some pot, a common-enough currency for a social introduction. A half-hour later, he pulled up in his blue Mazda to the corner of Coyle Street and Emmons Avenue, three blocks from Anthony’s house. John walked up to the window first, affecting a lisp the way he thought a gay guy might. A moment later, Anthony joined John at the side of the car, faking a chance meeting.

“I’m Mike Sandy,” Drumnbase007 said as he and Anthony shook hands.

Two hours later—at about 10 p.m. on October 8, 2006—police found Michael Sandy lying unconscious on the side of the Belt Parkway, a half-mile from Anthony’s house, near the parking lot of a well-known gay cruising spot called Plum Beach. Two witnesses had called 911 from cars saying they saw two white kids fighting with a young black man on the highway, bringing two lanes of traffic to a halt before a beige SUV struck Sandy in the far-left lane. Five days later, the day after his 29th birthday, Sandy’s family removed him from a respirator and allowed him to die.

The Michael Sandy case had all the hallmarks of a Matthew Shepard–style gay-bashing—a robbery gone wrong with a crew of presumably lowlife homophobes to blame. “He was murdered because he was gay,” District Attorney Charles Hynes said five days after he died. Four young men from Sheepshead Bay were arrested and charged with felony murder as a hate crime. (Race was never a serious factor in the case, despite the fact that the victim was black and the alleged perpetrators were white.) But everything changed in court in September, when the lawyer for the alleged ringleader, Anthony Fortunato, announced in his opening statement that his client couldn’t be guilty of a gay hate crime because he, too, was secretly gay.

Suddenly, this was no ordinary hate-crime trial. And with the media and gay and lesbian advocates watching the case closely, the question of what really happened to Michael Sandy at Plum Beach now became complicated by other questions. Was Anthony Fortunato really gay, or was this just a ploy to undermine the D.A.’s case? If he was telling the truth, is a gay man even capable of committing a gay hate crime? And what, at the end of the day, is a hate crime, anyway?

Michael Sandy, in Bellport, Long Island, in 2003.Photo: Courtesy of the Michael Sandy Foundation

Anthony Fortunato is broad-shouldered and tall, at least six foot five, with a strong nose and high cheekbones, like the bust of a Roman soldier. But his buzz cut and baggy prison jumpsuit make him seem boyish and gawky, as if he hasn’t yet grown into his looks. He enters a fluorescent-lit visitors’ room at Rikers Island through a thick metal door and shakes my hand. As we talk, he smiles nervously, looking down shyly much of the time.

The inmates at Rikers recognize Anthony now. Some of them call him a faggot, others pat him on the back for a bravura legal-defense tactic. He isn’t sure how to handle the attention. One thing he wants to make clear is that he’s not the everyday juvenile delinquent he’s been portrayed as: When I ask, for instance, if he’s been sent to rehab while in jail, he jokes, “The correctional aspect of the Department of Corrections is quite lacking.” But he still seems defensive, even remorseful, about the decision he made, at the urging of his lawyer, to make his sexual identity an issue in open court. “If it was any other crime short of a homicide,” he says, “I would have preferred to take the time, without a doubt. I had no option, ultimately.”

Long before that night at Plum Beach, he says, his life had been heading out of control. He grew up in a traditional Italian family in a middle-class, increasingly Russian sliver of Brooklyn tucked between the Sheepshead Bay marina to the south and the Belt Parkway to the north. As a boy, he seemed like an exotic creature in his slightly rough neighborhood, into poetry and books and drawing. Most of the high-school kids near him went to Murrow or Midwood, but not Anthony. From the start, his parents—his father was a pharmaceutical-supply salesman, his mother a registered nurse—sent him outside the neighborhood to a parochial grade school and then to Xavier, an academically competitive Jesuit high school in Manhattan. He spent most of his time with his father, a gym rat who worked out five days a week and never smoked or drank—and who tried to toughen his pudgy son by pushing him to be a hockey player and a karate black belt. If he was gay, no one knew it. He had girlfriends, some of them serious, and a few male friends, though he never seemed to keep anyone around for long.

In 2003, at the beginning of Anthony’s senior year of high school, John Fortunato was diagnosed with liposarcoma, a kind of soft-tissue cancer, and as his father endured years of treatments, his mother says a new Anthony emerged. He stopped talking to his father for days at a time, argued with his parents, quit the hockey team, and started getting high at night in his backyard with a revolving cast of new friends. “We tried very hard to bring Anthony back,” Joan Fortunato says. But Anthony was over 18 and enormous; there was no one bigger in the house to face him down. He stayed close to home for college, attending Iona in New Rochelle for three months and then transferring to St. Francis, in Brooklyn, where his partying continued: His sister told his mother he’d moved on from pot to cocaine and ecstasy. Anthony’s mother noticed him burning his arm with cigarettes and writing on his books “Fuck my life” and “My life sucks.”

On January 26, 2006—nine months before that night at Plum Beach—Anthony’s father died. This—not his sexuality—is what he says was the defining issue of his life, the reason for his reckless choices. “At the end, I would come home, you know, drunk,” Anthony says. “My father had signed himself out of the hospital, and he wouldn’t be able to move at all … I told everyone to leave the room, and I was holding his hand, and I was just like, ‘Dad, I want to just tell you that everything is going to be fine. I’m gonna be able to take care of the family. I want to do justice by you and everything you taught me. I promise that I’ll pass it on to my little brother, and give him the opportunities you gave me.’ And he couldn’t even reply.”

Anthony started crushing up his dad’s OxyContin and snorting it. He took a whole bottle of his father’s Xanax, vomiting most of it before it could kill him. Weeks later, he wrote a note saying he was “going where the sea meets the sky” before disappearing overnight. Joan says police helicopters found him in a daze at Plum Beach, where he put up a fight and was cuffed and taken in a straitjacket to Coney Island Hospital. “But Anthony was clever,” says Joan. “He didn’t let the psychiatrist know that he had left a death note, that he was going to kill himself, and then the doctor released him.” In April, he and a friend were caught in his house, wired on coke and gathering his mother’s jewelry to pawn for more drugs. His mother brought him to rehab, then to a psychiatrist. Again, he dodged treatment. “Every time we’d bring him somewhere, he seemed to be able to sweet-talk his way out of it,” his mother says. “And then he’d come home and be good for a day and then start again.”

John Fox, leaving the 61st Precinct, after the Sandy killing.Photo: Daniel Barry

The guys Anthony was with on the night of October 8, 2006, were friends he’d made that summer at the piers. John Fox was a scrawny 19-year-old son of a divorced firefighter, a “pushover” as a kid, according to one old friend, who now was a scrappy ROTC candidate at suny Maritime in the Bronx. Gary Timmins was a marble-mouthed, slump-shouldered 16-year-old reform-school kid who’d been collared for a half-dozen different vandalism, minor-assault, and shoplifting crimes and made it through rehab once with no visible positive effects. Ilya Shurov, 20, whom everyone knew by his graffiti tag, Kaze, was smaller than Anthony but tougher. He’d tell Anthony stories about how he used to smoke angel dust and sniff horse tranquilizer, but now he said all he wanted to do was fish.

None of his friends were gay—open homosexuality wasn’t common where Anthony came from—but that night last year, Anthony says, he had an inkling his friends would go for his chat-room idea. He knew that John and Gary knew one older guy around the neighborhood who was gay and liked to offer pot to kids like them. He figured his plan would make sense to them. But more than that, this moment was both terrifying and exhilarating for him. Even if he was framing the whole deal as a way to score drugs, it was the first time he’d told anyone he’d ever met gay men before.

Fisheyefox and Drumnbase007 had agreed to meet at the corner of Emmons and Coyle. Mike Sandy typed in another IM that he’d be there in a half-hour. hurryup, the guys typed back.

On the way to Coyle Street, Anthony, John, and Gary ran into their friend Kaze—Ilya Shurov. They told them what they were up to, and he asked to come along. When the four friends got to the corner, Kaze and Gary stood on one side of the street, out of view, as John, then Anthony went to the blue Mazda to meet Michael Sandy for the first time. Anthony says it all seemed to be going well until Sandy noticed Kaze and Gary coming his way, and Sandy seemed to sour on the date and drove away. So much for the plan.

The four friends headed back to Anthony’s place and got back on the computer. They’d gotten a nibble; why not cast another line? It turned out they didn’t have to. A half-hour later, up popped another message from Drumnbase007: yo i wanna suck ur cock.

Anthony couldn’t believe it. “The guy wants to come back!”

Michael Sandy wanted another chance at a date, but with John Fox alone: all I wanna do is chill with just you and mess around, Sandy typed. The guys did their best to assure Sandy that he and John would be alone this time. They also tried to get him to bring $100 for a room at the Comfort Inn. When Sandy said i dont have money to blow ya know, they suggested Plum Beach. Sandy had never heard of it, but he agreed to meet John back at Coyle Street and they’d go to the beach together. Meanwhile, Anthony, Gary, and Kaze would start walking up the beach to meet them.

It took just 24 hours for police to trace the AOL screen name Fisheyefox to John Fox, then the IP address they were using to Anthony’s. At about 1 a.m. on October 10, homicide detectives rang Anthony’s doorbell and showed him a photo of Fox. Anthony lied and said he hadn’t seen him in a few weeks. He didn’t know that at the same time, detectives were en route to the Bronx to pick up John from his college dorm. Fox confessed within hours, but Anthony was released; there was insufficient evidence to arrest him.

Joan says her son was overwhelmed with horror, on the verge of a full meltdown. He’d admitted to her he was with the others at the start of the night, but insisted he wasn’t around when things got violent. The only thing Joan could think to do, she says, was get him back into a clinic. Police had a warrant ready on the 19th, but doctors at a Beth Israel hospital facility asked them to hold off, explaining that he was a suicide risk. On October 25, Anthony was finally removed from the clinic and arrested.

Anthony had been in Rikers for a about week when Anthony’s mother and sister were on the computer, and an IM popped up for him. She remember the language as “quite provocative.” Visiting him at Rikers, she asked about it. “Anthony, what were you doing in a gay chat room?”

Sitting there in the visitors’ room, Anthony looked pained. “Because I did it before, Ma!”

He could never bring himself to say more, and his mother didn’t get what he was hinting at. “I thought it was out of character,” Joan says now, “because Anthony had a girlfriend, too, when he was at school.”

But she kept asking about it, until Anthony threw up his hands: “Ma. Look at my buddy list.”

“And when we looked at his buddy list, I saw, like, 300 names,” Joan says. “I nearly fell off my chair.” They were all men.

The D.A. indicted Anthony and his friends on a variety of counts, from felony murder down to assault, and tacked on hate-crime charges that could add years of jail time to their sentences. The harshest count, felony murder, brings a minimum of 15 years, but with hate-crime charges, that number goes up to 20. The judge decided that Anthony and John Fox would be tried together, but with separate juries. Ilya “Kaze” Shurov would have his own trial. Gary Timmins had copped a plea, agreeing to four years in exchange for his testimony against the others.

When Anthony and Fox appeared in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn in September, Assistant District Attorney Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi set out to prove both the felony murder case—that they tried to rob Michael Sandy, setting into motion a chain of events that led to his death—and the hate-crime case: that they selected Sandy as their victim because he was gay. Though not yet 40, Nicolazzi is intense and focused, with an expertise in complex cases with multiple defendants. To her, she said in her opening statement, this was a standard-issue hate crime: The defendants were small-time thugs who figured a gay guy for an easy mark, and Michael Sandy was the tragic casualty. “He was preyed upon,” she said, explaining how she would prove that Ilya Shurov punched Sandy in the face, then chased him until he broke free, and how Shurov and John Fox then chased him onto the Belt Parkway. Anthony, she said, was the man with the plan, the one who made this a hate crime: “In his words,” she said, “ ‘The gay guys would always come, and it would be easy.’ ”

Anthony’s lawyer, Gerald Di Chiara, is a veteran criminal attorney best known for winning an acquittal for one of the white defendants who attacked 16-year-old Yusuf Hawkins in the notorious 1989 bias incident in Bensonhurst. In debriefing the Fortunato family, Di Chiara had recognized right away that what Anthony’s mother had discovered on Anthony’s computer could be Anthony’s best defense. Until now, Di Chiara had kept silent about the fact that Anthony was gay (although during jury selection, he says, he’d tried to pick jurors he thought might be gay). He began his opening statement by saying that his client never meant to hurt anyone, and that what was planned that night wasn’t even a robbery but a prank that went out of control when Shurov went wild and attacked Michael Sandy. Then he played the gay card.

Why does it matter if a murderer kills for reasons of bias? Isn’t a murder a murder?

“This man has been tortured by a secret that he has carried for a long time,” he said in his low, approachable Brooklyn accent. “His secret is coming out in this courtroom, and his family”—gesturing now to the gallery, where a handful of Anthony’s relatives sat—“is listening.”

Anthony, Di Chiara announced, was gay. “He’d been leading a secret life through the Internet, meeting men and having sex with them.” Not only was Anthony not culpable in Michael Sandy’s death, Di Chiara argued. He certainly wasn’t involved in a hate crime. How could this have been a gay-bashing, Di Chiara said, if Anthony himself was gay? What Anthony had wanted as much as anything that night, Di Chiara said, was an opportunity to tell his friends he was gay—to come out. Anything else that happened that night, he argued, simply wasn’t Anthony’s fault.

With one speech, the case had a whole new focus. Was Anthony Fortunato a manipulative teenage predator who was playing the gay card in a desperate move to win his freedom? Or was he a sad, mixed-up closet case who never hated anyone, except maybe himself?

If the prosecutor was thrown by the revelation, she recovered and quickly went back to the business of building her murder case. Nicolazzi showed the jury transcripts of the AOL chat that showed how Anthony and the others had enticed Sandy to meet them (got a blanket.. lol). She brought out one of the 911 callers who identified Fox and Shurov on the highway, and then the medical examiner who detailed the gruesome trauma Sandy sustained to his head and body. Sandy’s mother shed a tear on the stand when she remembered how her son “was hooked up to all kinds of machines.”

Nicolazzi’s star witness, such as he was, was Gary Timmins. Hostile and inarticulate, Anthony’s onetime fishing buddy mumbled about how, watching from the dunes as Fox and Shurov were running after Sandy, Anthony put his hand on Timmins’s shoulder and told him to search Sandy’s car for the pot. The next day, Timmins said, Anthony said he’d searched through Sandy’s knapsack—and laughed about how John used a lisp around Sandy to act like “a faggot.” Throughout the trial, Nicolazzi made a practice of never disputing Anthony’s gay claim; instead, she just argued it didn’t matter if he was or wasn’t. The hate-crime law, she said, only required that Anthony singled out Sandy because Sandy was gay. Anthony’s sexuality was irrelevant.

Di Chiara, meanwhile, pushed forward with his gay defense. He called three different witnesses, forcing them under subpoena to testify to having had sex with Anthony Fortunato. Each man appeared at least ten years older than Anthony. Two of them said Anthony had been wearing women’s underwear during their encounters—a bra and a G-string. “He told me he had a girlfriend,” one said. “But he believed that he was gay.” All that was left was for the defendant himself to confirm it.

Two weeks after Di Chiara’s revelation, on the afternoon of October 1, Anthony Fortunato finally took the stand. Di Chiara walked him through what was obviously a well-rehearsed recitation of the gay defense: how closeted he was, how he’d hoped to possibly come out that night, how as soon as Kaze got violent, he left Plum Beach and walked home. The one glitch came when Di Chiara asked outright if he was gay. “I could be homosexual,” Anthony said—his mother sitting a few yards away. “Or bisexual. But I really don’t know.”

Anthony continued hedging well into Nicolazzi’s cross-examination. As she sought to destroy his credibility, Anthony strained to defend it, and the result was a series of semantic clashes that didn’t especially help his case. She said he lured Sandy to Plum Beach; he said no, it was a meeting. She said he’d been hiding in the dunes. He said he was sitting. Then she started listing all the lies he’d told that night: He led Michael Sandy to believe Fisheyefox was just one guy; he allowed Sandy to assume that John Fox was gay; he assured him that he would be alone with John that night. “It’s fair to say you lied to get what you wanted?” she asked.

Anthony thought for a moment before answering.

“It’s fair to say that,” he said.

Di Chiara used his closing statement to drive home the hate-crime argument one last time. “If Anthony’s gay, it makes it less likely that he’s involved in a hate crime,” he said. “He did a stupid, bad thing. But he is not guilty of the charges in this indictment.” Nicolazzi, for her part, reminded the jury of why Sandy was selected that night, and suggested that the idea of Anthony’s wanting to come out to his friends was bogus. “These were the guys the defendant wants you to believe he was testing the waters with, ready to come out to?” she said. “That’s ridiculous.”

Four days into deliberations, the foreman sent a worried note to the judge: “A number of jurors are having serious personality conflicts with juror No. 1, making it difficult to continue our deliberation.” The judge gave them a word of encouragement and sent them back. More notes followed, suggesting they’d reached a partial verdict but were still hung up on the hate-crime question. Finally, on day five, at 3 p.m., the jurors reached a verdict. In front of a packed courtroom, the foreman, looking ashen, said in a weak voice that Anthony was guilty—not of felony murder, but of the lesser charge of manslaughter. In one sense, the jury was cutting Anthony a break—manslaughter carries far less jail time than felony murder. But there was one major caveat. The jury also unanimously agreed that Anthony’s manslaughter was a hate crime.

Within minutes of the verdict, the foreman, a 46-year-old playwright named Eric Zaccar, told reporters what had gone on behind closed doors. He declared that no juror seriously thought Anthony was a bigot, or had set out to brutalize a homosexual that October night—and they certainly didn’t believe that he ever laid a hand on Michael Sandy. What the jury did, Zaccar said, was what they were instructed to do: Follow the letter of the law. In order to convict, the judge told them, they needed only to be convinced that Anthony intentionally selected Sandy “in whole or in substantial part because of a belief or perception on his part” of Sandy’s sexual orientation. “I’m never going to feel good about this,” Zaccar said. “Not one person on that jury believed that it was a hate crime.”

It’s hard to argue with the sentiment behind hate-crime laws. Who, after all, isn’t against hate? Many states began creating a special category of punishment for racial prejudice or homophobia or anti-Semitism in the nineties as a response to bias crimes that clearly seemed to be about much more than violence against just one person—like the Yusuf Hawkins case. They were meant to acknowledge that certain crimes resonate more than others—and are, in effect, attacks on our society. At the time, these new laws seemed like a healthy reflex of a justice system that prides itself on protecting minority rights. The politicians who created them, and the constituencies that supported them, agreed that creating special punishment for crimes of hate—singling out racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism as so abominable as to require a unique reaction—didn’t just punish a criminal but helped to correct a larger social ill.

But the Anthony Fortunato case points out the limitations of hate-crime laws. Lots of gay hate crimes, for one, are committed by confused, self-loathing gay people. Does the perpetrators’ gayness make their crimes any less horrible? Should it even be considered a mitigating factor? Since Michael Sandy was black, why weren’t Fortunato and his friends charged with hate crimes against blacks?

The New York State hate-crimes law has been controversial since it was passed seven years ago. At issue is the question of motive versus deed. An original version of the bill in the Democratic-controlled State Assembly had required that both factors be considered—that to be convicted of a hate crime, the criminal must demonstrate “invidious hatred, prejudice, and bias” and single out the victim based on his race, religion, sexual orientation, or the like. But the final version, a bill that came out of the Republican-controlled State Senate, made motive almost irrelevant. All that mattered was the selection itself.

“Guys, you can get high with someone that’s gay, right?” Fortunato asked his friends. “You don’t have any problems?”

The trouble with that law, critics say, is that a hate crime doesn’t even have to involve hatred. “What if a black person decided to prey upon another black person out of a perception that black people are weak, more susceptible to crime?” asks John Sampson, an African-American state senator from Brooklyn who helped pass the law but now believes the way it’s being applied has exposed its loopholes. Is that a hate crime? He doesn’t think so. “With examples like that,” he says, “we’re moving away from the spirit of the law.”

Sampson would prefer to see a law that “looks at a person’s prior acts.” The goal would be to identify whether the person was truly bigoted—and whether the crime was committed specifically out of hate. Testimony could be given; witnesses called, he says. But even then, he concedes, such a law would be imperfect. How can you know what’s truly in a person’s heart?

Those are practical, legal issues. In the end, there’s still a larger philosophical question hovering over the whole notion of a hate crime: Why does it matter if a murderer kills for reasons of bias? Isn’t a murder a murder?

Back at Rikers, Anthony tells me that in the flash of the moment they shook hands at the car on Coyle Street, he thought he liked Michael Sandy. He certainly didn’t hate him, he says—he seemed like a nice guy. That summer, he’d been looking for older men who were gay whom he could turn to for advice and help understand better who he was.

He tells me he was 13 years old when he first suspected he was gay and 14 when he first masturbated in front of a friend. “He was my first good friend,” Anthony says. “But he eventually started, like, coming on to me and touching me. And I wasn’t comfortable with that. So I just stopped hanging around with him. But then I noticed when I was watching heterosexual porn I was also watching the men—and the women. I didn’t know what that really meant.” Even if he had been certain he was gay, he says, he couldn’t have come out. “My family was always very happy … My mother always talked about, you know, someday she wants to have grandkids. And I couldn’t come to terms with denying them that dream.” The girlfriends sort of just happened, he says. “They were always dominant girls, so it was pretty much what they wanted when they wanted it. I was all right with that.”

He was 15 or 16 when he explored his first Internet chat room, he says. “I was hidden behind the screen name. I knew that unless I chose to give people a picture, they wouldn’t know me. And I also got to choose who I was talking to. So I felt safe.” He moved on to cybersex, then phone sex with local guys, and finally, at 17, the real thing. “I decided I’d look for an older man,” he says, “someone who would be discreet and who wouldn’t have any of the same friends I have. Probably closeted. And who lived close, because I didn’t have a car.” His name, he says, was Mitch. By the time he was 19, he’d see Mitch at least once a month, and Mitch would fix him up with other men.

He says he was still testing the waters, dabbling in going public, the night Michael Sandy was killed. I ask him the same question Nicolazzi asked: Why on earth come out to these kids, whom he’d only just met, who were hardly stand-up guys? Because, he says, they were disposable to him—a good test case. “Either I’d learn I cannot be friends with these people because they don’t accept me,” he says, “or it would turn out they do understand.”

Whatever his motives were that night, does he accept any responsibility at all for any part of what happened? He considers his answer before speaking.

“Gary started walking towards the lot. I still stayed on the beach, and I saw them at the car”—fighting. “And I said, That’s it, I don’t want anything to do with them anymore.” He walked home, he says. He says he now knows that he abandoned Michael Sandy.

“I still in my mind couldn’t imagine anything really horrible happening out of this. I really regret for Mike’s family and all his friends that something had to just happen like that. I feel guilty that I intended for one thing to happen, but I intended it with definitely the wrong group of friends. That’s something I’ll never be able to get past.”

Then I ask him point-blank if he’s gay. He’s caught off-guard by the question.

“I’m gay, yeah—I mean, bisexual,” he says. “I don’t know. Gay? Probably. You know, it’s—but it’s—it’s still hard for me. I’ve still yet to come to terms with being me.”

When Is a Hate Crime Not a Hate Crime?