COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina woman was convicted of shooting into her African American and Mexican neighbors’ homes while shouting racial epithets, prompting the sheriff on the case to say the state needs a hate crimes law.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott told The State newspaper that such a law would have let the judge enhance the 20-year sentence given to Mandy Fortson after a jury on Friday found her guilty of attempted murder and other charges.
Prosecutors said Fortson went into her backyard in 2017 and shot at two of her neighbors’ homes — an apartment with an African American family and a house with a Mexican family — while children were inside both dwellings.
Authorities said Fortson, who is white, yelled racial epithets about African Americans and Mexicans while firing a nearly foot-long revolver.
An African American man was struck by the bullets in the wrist and the hip, 5th Judicial Circuit Solicitor Byron Gipson said. No one was physically injured in the other home, though the family's children remain traumatized, Gipson added.
During her trial, Fortson, a former county paramedic, denied shooting into the homes. Prosecutors said they never identified a motive for the crime despite the amount of evidence against Fortson.
Gipson told the newspaper that if a hate crimes law existed, he would have prosecuted Fortson under it.
“This shows the need for a hate crime law,” Lott said.
South Carolina is one of only three states without such a law. Legislators are considering a bill that would allow prosecutors to ask a jury to recommend extra punishment for a violent crime motivated by the victim's race, religion, sex, gender, national origin, sexual orientation or physical or mental disability.
The measure passed the state House this year and is now on the Senate floor. Senators didn't take up the bill before adjourning earlier this month.