Hate-crime victim wins leniency for perpetrator | TheUnion.com

Hate-crime victim wins leniency for perpetrator

The Union StaffUnderwood
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A black woman’s request for leniency spared a white man prison time for his racially motivated attack on her at a Grass Valley bus stop last spring.

Nicholas Underwood, 22, instead was sentenced to a year in jail and three years’ probation Tuesday in Nevada County Superior Court. His co-defendant, Craig McIlhenny, 22, received nine months in jail and three years’ probation.

Because he was on parole at the time of the attack, Underwood could have received up to three years in prison. District Attorney Mike Ferguson argued for that amount.

But Tiki Arnett, who withstood racial slurs and hurled objects at the bus stop, said prison would only make Underwood worse, during an Aug. 21 phone interview with a probation officer.

“There they get hooked up with hate gangs. Prison is where they learn to hate more. I’d like counseling for both,” she said.

Judge Ersel Edwards, who gave Arnett’s statement heavy consideration, ordered both men to attend anger management and cultural diversity classes. Both also must get chemical dependency treatment.

Arnett, who wasn’t in court Tuesday, noted that Underwood had phoned her from jail to apologize. But she had less compassion for McIlhenny.

“The other guy wasn’t sorry for what he did. He was a jerk,” she said.

On April 9, McIlhenny drove past South Church and Neal streets, where Arnett and her husband, Sacramento-area residents, waited for a bus with others. Underwood and a third man not charged in the case, Joseph McIntosh, were in the car. One of the trio yelled slurs at Arnett.

On a second pass, wet sunflower seed shells were hurled, hitting Arnett and others.

On a third pass, an unopened can missed Arnett’s head by less than 2 inches. McIntosh said Underwood threw the can.

McIlhenny, according to Arnett, said: “Get … out of town, you fat, black bitch. We’re going to kill you.”

Police arrested the three nearby and reported finding a loaded gun, three bottles of liquor and a hashish pipe in the car. McIlhenny had a .10 blood-alcohol percentage, and McIntosh said the three had been drinking, the probation report says.

In a probation interview, Underwood said he had acted stupidly and was drunk. “I have a colored friend who I work with, who I consider a friend,” he said.

McIlhenny admitted telling Arnett to get out of town, but denied threatening to kill her. He said he needed the gun for protection because of a domestic dispute.

Jennifer Walters, Underwood’s court-appointed lawyer, was among many surprised by the judge’s sentence for Underwood.

“He’s very grateful for (Arnett’s) participation and her understanding in the case, and was very appreciative that she shared her feelings in court,” she said.

Walters had argued for a 16-month prison term primarily, she said, because it would have been easier for Underwood to remain on parole instead of both parole and probation.

Ferguson wanted the maximum three-year sentence, despite the victim’s input, because of Underwood’s criminal past, which includes convictions for assault, sexual battery and vehicle theft. McIlhenny has no prior felony convictions.

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