Supremacists get maximum prison terms in hate crime

Previous records lengthen sentences in racial attack. The judge gives the men convicted of the hate crime prison terms of 14 and 20 years.

The Press-Enterprise/March 19, 2002
By Mike Kataoka

Riverside -- Two white supremacists got maximum prison terms Monday for a 1999 hate-motivated attack on a black man in the outskirts of Temecula.

The sentencing of Travis Miskam and Jesse Douglas came three years and one day after Randy Wordell Bowen was struck in the head by a beer bottle and slashed in the back during a confrontation with neo-Nazi skinheads.

The attack occurred in the hills of Temecula's wine country at a St. Patrick's Day bonfire that had attracted about 150 people.

A jury last November found Miskam and Douglas guilty of assaulting Bowen as well as of hate-crime and gang allegations, but it rejected more serious attempted-murder charges.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Patrick Magers sentenced Miskam, 23, of Hemet to 20 years in prison and Douglas, 20, of Temecula to 14 years.

Bowen, 26, of Murrieta did not attend the sentencing, but Diane Roth, his lawyer in a civil suit stemming from the attack, read his statement.

"I was chased down and attacked by a violent racist gang acting like a pack of rabid animals," he wrote.

"My memory of that attack is as sharp and painful as the knives they used to slash my back."

The knife wound came within an inch of a vital organ, and Bowen said he missed more than a month of work.

Bowen expressed gratitude to authorities for pursuing the case and the jury for its guilty verdicts.

Magers agreed with Bowen that Miskam and Douglas deserved the longest terms possible.

"The conduct of the defendants involved a high degree of cruelty and viciousness to this victim," Magers said.

"This victim was totally outnumbered and unarmed and confronted by numerous individuals."

Prosecutor John Ruiz argued that Miskam deserved the maximum term because he was a state prison parolee and had led the attack on Bowen. Similarly, Douglas was on probation at the time.

Sentence Criticized

While prosecutors considered the hate crimes among the worst ever committed in Riverside County, Miskam's lawyer said the case was politically driven and excessively charged.

"I think the punishment was disproportionate to the crime, absolutely," said Peter Morreale outside court.

During the hearing, Morreale suggested 10 years would be more appropriate punishment considering the relatively minor injuries that Bowen suffered and the prison time that three other defendants had gotten through plea bargains.

One of them, Alan Yantis, 22, of Temecula, was sentenced to 10 years last October, and he admitted having a knife during the attack, Morreale said.

But Ruiz said Yantis had no prior criminal convictions and wasn't a leader of the hate group.

Two other defendants are serving four-year sentences.

Ruiz contended at the trial, and jurors agreed, that Miskam struck Bowen with the beer bottle. But the jury rejected the prosecutor's argument that Douglas used a razor-type knife to slash Bowen.

Three-strikes Law

Miskam's longer sentence was attributed in part to the three-strikes law, which doubles punishment for people like Miskam, who have one prior serious or violent felony conviction. In 1997, he was convicted in Orange County for assault with a deadly weapon and sent to prison.

Peter Scalisi, Douglas' lawyer, suggested eight years for Douglas would be just. He characterized his client as a "hanger-on," not a leader in the Western Hammerskins, a regional branch of an international white-supremacy organization.

Ruiz said the Western Hammerskins is "the most organized and violent of all the international hate groups on the scene."

Bowen, in his statement, said, "The sentences Miskam and Douglas get should send a clear and strong message discouraging others from cultivating the roots of racism and violence, and to anyone who uses gang violence to promote a twisted racist agenda."

Bowen's mother and sister attended the hearing but did not speak.

The defendants' relatives and friends filled half the courtroom, and several wept as Magers imposed punishment.

Upon hearing the 20-year sentence, Miskam nodded his head as if he expected it, but he showed no emotion. Douglas was in a far corner of the jury box, and his reaction to the sentence could not be seen from the audience.

Scalisi and Morreale filed notices of appeal for their clients, who must serve 85 percent of the sentences before they will become eligible for parole.

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