A man who admitted to defacing an L.G.B.T.Q. pride mural in South Florida has been ordered by a judge to write a 25-page essay about the Pulse nightclub shooting, an unorthodox assignment that surprised local rights activists.
Judge Scott Suskauer of the 15th Judicial Circuit of Florida last week ordered Alexander Jerich, 20, to write an essay about the shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub, where a gunman killed 49 people in Orlando in 2016.
The essay is due by Mr. Jerich’s final sentencing date, which is set for early June and coincides with Pride month.
Mr. Jerich’s lawyer, Robert Pasch, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. In a sentencing recommendation, he wrote that his client “acknowledges and regrets the pain and anger felt by members and allies of the L.G.B.T.Q. community and citizens of Delray Beach,” the city where the mural is located.
During a hearing last week, Mr. Jerich cried and apologized to the court, according to The Palm Beach Post, which reported on the case on Thursday. Prosecutors have recommended Mr. Jerich, of Lake Worth Beach, Fla., be sentenced to 30 days in jail, with five years’ probation. Mr. Pasch asked the judge for three years of probation and community service.
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Mr. Jerich turned himself in to the police last June and pleaded guilty on March 1 to criminal mischief of over $1,000 and reckless driving causing damage to property.
Last June, the city of Delray Beach held a ribbon-cutting event to unveil a painting that covered an intersection with the colors of a Pride flag.
Three days later, a police officer noticed the painting had been vandalized with “tire skid marks” that were “approximately 15 feet across the painting,” the officer noted in an arrest affidavit.
A cellphone video submitted to the authorities showed a white pickup truck skidding sideways across the painting. The affidavit said the truck’s license plate and an investigation led the authorities to Mr. Jerich, who the affidavit said was seen at the scene of the mural during a birthday rally for former President Donald J. Trump.
The mural’s defacing last year drew condemnation in South Florida, and some in the community called it a possible hate crime. (The state attorney of Palm Beach County said last year that he would not file a hate crime charge because of the terms of Florida’s statute.) Rand Hoch, the president of a local rights group, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, said in court documents that the group was “outraged our community was victimized” by Mr. Jerich.
Mr. Hoch urged the court to incarcerate Mr. Jerich for no less than a year, with probation of no less than five years and an order to stay away from the Pride intersection.
But in an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Hoch said the essay assignment showed “the judge was taking it seriously and he is using this as a learning opportunity for the defendant.”
“I went in there prepared to be disappointed and I came out impressed,” he said about the hearing. He added, “It will be interesting to see what the ultimate punishment is.”
Judge Suskauer’s order joins a long history of unorthodox orders by American judges who have tried to make defendants reflect on their actions with creative punishments.
In 2017, instead of ordering community service, a Virginia judge sentenced five teenagers who defaced a historic Black schoolhouse to read books about the horrors of history, such as slavery and the Holocaust. A year later, a judge in Missouri ordered a man convicted of taking part in a poaching operation believed to have killed hundreds of deer to watch the 1942 Disney movie “Bambi” once a month for a year.
In Colorado, a judge made headlines in 2008 and 2009 by ordering people who violated noise ordinances to listen, at high volume, to the music of Barry Manilow, Boy George and “Barney and Friends.” And before his retirement, an Ohio judge repeatedly doled out unusual punishments, such as giving a woman the choice to walk 30 miles or go to jail for 30 days for failing to pay a cab fare.