A Fresno man who assaulted an elderly Sikh man in what was deemed a hate crime was sentenced Friday in Fresno County Superior Court to four years in prison.
Judge Jonathan Conklin said it was a difficult decision to send Daniel Coronel Wilson Jr. to prison because the judge said by all accounts Wilson was a good person who took care of his disabled father, helped his mother, attended Fresno City College, and had no prior criminal record.
But prosecutor Timothy Donovan said Wilson, 23, instigated the Dec. 26, 2015, assault when he yelled: “ISIS. Terrorist. Let’s get him.” During Wilson’s trial, Donovan contended that Wilson and another person targeted the victim, Amrik Singh Bal, simply because he wore a long beard, a turban and traditional Sikh clothing.
“You attacked this man for no reason than a misguided perception,” Conklin said in announcing Wilson’s punishment. “That’s what bigots do. They act on misguided perceptions.”
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Hate-crime convictions are rarities in Fresno County Superior Court because prosecutors have to prove they were racially motivated.
That’s what bigots do. They act on misguided perceptions.
Judge Jonathan Conklin
In October, a jury found Wilson guilty of felony assault causing great bodily injury to Bal, who was punched in the face several times and then run over by a car driven by Alexis Mendoza – a brutal crime that was captured by a private security camera. The jury also ruled the assault was a hate crime.
Wilson stood trial alone because Mendoza, 17, committed suicide in April.
Wilson did not testify in the trial. His trial lawyer, Marina Pincus, told jurors there was not enough evidence to convict Wilson since video of the incident does not clearly show who punched the victim nor who was in the car that ran the victim over.
In his closing summation, Donovan said Sikhs and Muslims have been mistaken targets of hate crimes and harassment since the 9/11 attacks by people who erroneously identify them as terrorists and leap to the conclusion that they represent terrorism.
According to police, the assault on Bal stirred outrage and fear within Fresno’s Sikh community.
Wilson stood trial alone because his accused accomplice, Alexis Mendoza, 17, committed suicide in April.
Donovan said during the trial that Bal was a peaceful family man who was going to work when he was attacked around 7 a.m. while walking on Brunswick Avenue near Shields Avenue, west of Highway 99.
Bal, 68, told police that a skinny kid and a heavy-set man got out of the car and beat him with their fists. “Please don’t kill me,” Bal said he told his assailants, fending them off with his lunch bag and a water bottle.
After the beating, the two assailants got back in their car. Bal tried to run away, but the car ran him over, slamming his head into the pavement, the prosecutor said.
Donovan told the jury that Wilson’s action could have cost Bal his life because he and Mendoza left Bal unconscious on the roadway for six minutes before he was discovered by friends. The assault left Bal with a broken collarbone, cuts on his head and to one of his ears, and a swollen jaw, Donovan said.
After the attack, Wilson and Mendoza put the public in danger by racing away from the crime scene and running a stop sign, Donovan said. But once police offered a reward, tipsters led Fresno police to Mendoza and Wilson, who were arrested three months after the attack.
On Friday, Pincus said the crime was spontaneous. She also said the two witnesses who implicated Wilson and Mendoza were his friends and they said he was not a racist.
In addition, after Wilson was arrested, Pincus said police searched his belongings and social media sites and found no evidence of racist writings or racial undertones.
Bal did not attend the hearing. The defendant and his mother and father said they were sorry for what happened to the victim. The defendant also expressed sorrow about what happened to Mendoza.
The maximum penalty Wilson faced was eight years in prison. Probation officials recommended seven years in prison.
Pincus sought probation for Wilson, saying he likely won’t reoffend and his family depends on him. Donovan asked Conklin to send Wilson to prison, but said he believed seven years in prison was too harsh.
Conklin settled on four years – two years for the assault and two years for the hate crime allegation – saying he wanted to send a message to anyone thinking of attacking someone just because of his or her appearance. “You will go to prison,” the judge said.