WASHINGTON -- A bipolar, 27-year-old Texas man who allegedly filmed himself punching an elderly African-American man as part of the "Knockout Game" will challenge the constitutionality of the federal hate crimes statute under which he was charged, his lawyer told The Huffington Post Monday.
Conrad Alvin Barrett was arrested last week and charged by federal prosecutors in connection with the November assault. He was denied bail on Friday, and is currently in federal custody. The 79-year-old victim spent several days in the hospital after the attack.
Barrett was charged under The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, which had a broader reach than previous hate crimes statutes. The government has argued that Congress' power to pass the hate crimes laws comes from the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery, because hate crimes laws help eradicate badges of slavery.
George Parnham, a lawyer for Barrett, said in an interview that he planned to challenge the constitutionality of the hate crimes statute. He said it was "absolutely" inappropriate for the feds to get involved in this case, and that this type of alleged assault should have been charged under existing Texas law. His client could face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 if convicted on the federal level.
"This is a case that could have easily been handled by state authorities," Parnham told HuffPost.
DOJ has already successfully defended several challenges to the 2009 hate crimes statute in court, with judges finding that Congress has extensive authority under the 13th Amendment to prohibit racially motivated violence. One federal judge wrote that the Supreme Court has "strongly implied that racially motivated assaults constitute a badge of slavery under the 13th Amendment."
The "Knockout Game" isn't new, but several cases highlighted in the media have involved black assailants targeting white victims. The fact that this is the only "knockout" case to be prosecuted by the feds has not gone unnoticed by conservative outlets.