by: Steve Gehlbach, Tyisha Fernandes Updated: Feb 27, 2017 – 7:30 PM
DOUGLAS COUNTY, Ga. – A young couple was sentenced to prison for their part in a racially charged crime.
Both wept as the sentences were handed down.
“Their actions were motivated by racial hatred,” said Superior Court Judge William McClain.
A Douglas County judge sentenced the defendants to a year longer in prison than the state was seeking: 13 years for Jose Torres and 6 years for Kayla Norton.
The couple, who have three children, was part of a larger group in July 2015 called Respect the Flag. Their convoy of trucks, flying the Confederate battle flag, pulled up to a birthday party for an 8-year-old black child.
Channel 2 Action News spoke to a woman who was at the birthday party in 2015.
Melissa Alford said at least seven pickup trucks displaying Confederate flags pulled up on her property on Campbellton Street and their passengers were armed and threatened to “kill y’all [N-words].”
“This is behavior that even supporters of the Confederate battle flag can agree is criminal and shouldn’t be allowed,” Douglas County District Attorney Brian Fortner said in a statement.
Norton was sentenced on one count of violating Georgia’s street gang act and one count of making terroristic threats. Torres was sentenced on three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, one count of terroristic threats and one count of violating the street gang act.
The disruption of the birthday party took place less than a month after white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine African-Americans at a historic black church in Charleston. Roof, who was sentenced to death for his crime, brandished the battle flag in several photographs that came to light after his arrest. He said it had been his intent to kill black people and start a race war.
Channel 2’s Steve Gehlbach said Monday’s court proceeding was one of the most intense he’s ever seen.
Out of the dozen or more people involved in the incident, only four were charged with felonies.
Their attorneys pled for lighter sentencing, saying that two other defendants, Thomas Charles Summers and Lacey Paul Henderson II, had pled guilty to terroristic threat and battery charges and received lighter sentences that Norton and Torres were facing. Summers, is serving 4 years in prison and Henderson is serving two.
Superior Court Judge William McClain, however, said Torres and Norton would have to answer for their behavior.
He also called into question the Douglasville Police Department’s decision not to arrest any of the “Respect the Flag” group that day. He called it “inexplicable” and “a very bad mistake.”