LONG BEACH, Calif. – Four black teenagers convicted in the racially charged beating of three white women on Halloween were sentenced to probation Friday.
Punishment could have ranged up to confinement in a California Youth Authority lockup until age 25.
The sentences were handed down by Juvenile Court Judge Gibson Lee, who last week convicted nine teens — eight female and one male — of felony assault, with a hate-crime enhancement against all but one.
Sentenced were an 18-year-old youth and his twin sister, who were 17 at the time of the crime, their 16-year-old sister — who didn't receive the enhancement — and another 16-year-old girl. The judge imposed 250 hours of community service, 60 days of house arrest, and anger management and racial tolerance programs.
"It was an awful crime. Terrible, emotional and physical injuries," the judge said.
Before sentencing, the judge reminded the audience that it was a juvenile court. Lee said he "must pick the least restrictive disposition that can lead to the rehabilitation of the minor."
The 18-year-old youth first pleaded with the judge, saying he was innocent and tried to help the victims, including taking a skateboard away from an assailant who was using it as a weapon.
"Before October 30, I had so much going for me. My future was bright," he said. He said he had planned to attend college on an athletic scholarship and hoped to go to law school.
"What will my life be like? I'm 18 and convicted of a hate crime," he said.
"I will do community service, whatever it takes, just please let me go home," he said.
Beating victim Laura Schneider, 19, cried at the judge's decision.
When the young man's twin sister was to be sentenced, Deputy District Attorney Andrea Bouas returned to court wiping tears from her eyes and argued for a stronger penalty on grounds that the young woman was responsible for causing an injury that forced a victim to have surgery.
"Punishment is part of rehabilitation," the prosecutor said. "To allow a human being to do that and go home is an abomination to the justice system."
The twin sister told the court her dream was to attend the University of Southern California on a track scholarship.
"It's hard to know that my life is slowly going down the drain for a crime I did not commit," she said.
The prosecution had asked that the three siblings get nine months of detention in a youth camp. Instead they were credited with 95 days already spent in custody.
The other five defendants face sentencing next week. Names of the defendants were withheld because they are juveniles or were at the time and were tried as juveniles.
The victims were in an affluent area of Long Beach that draws crowds with fancy Halloween displays when a crowd of black youths yelled racial insults and one shouted "I hate whites," according to prosecutors.
One victim testified the trio was pelted with small pumpkins and lemons, and were set upon by the group as they tried talk away. A witness testified two of the women were beaten with skateboards.
Prosecutors said the beating only ended when a black motorist stopped, pulled the assailants away and shielded the women with his body.
The victims appeared in court earlier this week to tell the judge about the impact of the assault on their lives.
One of them, Loren Hyman, 21, was not in court for the sentencings. Hyman suffered facial fractures in the beating and Bouas told the court she was having surgery Friday.
In her earlier victim impact statement she indicated she has psychological wounds, too.
"I'm not sure if all the emotional scars will ever completely vanish," she said. "I feel like the beating I endured on Halloween night is still not over."
Two 15-year-old boys face trial later on charges of felony assault with the hate-crime enhancement.
Long Beach, 22 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, is a major U.S. cargo port with a racially diverse population of 475,000 and neighborhoods ranging from high-end shoreline condos to low-income urban areas.