A 30-year-old man from Ames, Iowa, Adolfo Martinez, was convicted and sentenced to 16 years in prison for stealing and setting fire to an LGBTQ Pride flag in June.

He stole the flag that was displayed outside the Ames United Church of Christ and burned it outside the Dangerous Curves Gentleman’s Club early the morning of June 11th.

A jury convicted Martinez last week of third-degree arson in violation of individual rights — hate crime, third-degree harassment, and reckless use of fire as a habitual offender.

Story County Attorney Jessica Reynolds told The Des Moines Register that she added the hate crime charge because what the church’s flag “represents as far as sexual orientation” and his actions represented “criminal mischief.”

In the Iowa Code, “hate crime” refers to specific public offenses when committed against a person or a person’s property because of the person’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, political affiliation, sex, sexual orientation, age, or disability, or the person’s association with a person of a certain race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, political affiliation, sex, sexual orientation, age, or disability.”

The hate crime designation and his habitual offenses exasperated the sentence. Ordinarily, third degree arson is a aggravated misdemeanor up to two years in jail and a fine of between $625 and $6,250. Reckless use of fire is a serious misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of between $315 and $1,875. Third degree harassment. Third-degree harassment is a simple misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a fine of $65 to $625, or both.

This would amount to a maximum of three years and 30 days in jail without the “hate crime” and “habitual offenses” enhancements.

The arson charge, with the hate crime designation, means the third degree arson offense is punished one degree higher. This is the equivalent of a class C felony which carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Reckless use of fire with the habitual offender classification (requires two felony convictions) and enhancement carries a sentence of anywhere between three and 15 years in prison.

This is insane and it could have been worse. He could have been sentenced to approximately 25 years in prison for burning an LGBTQ Pride flag.

Don’t get me wrong, he violated the law. He stole and destroyed someone else’s property. He should face consequences for that, but 16 years? That is more than what some Iowans have been sentenced for killing someone.

On April 28, 2018, Joseph Duane Hubbard, a resident of Hiawatha, was sentenced by a Linn County district court judge to 10 years for voluntary manslaughter in the 2016 death of his mother, Deborah Ann Roman, whom he killed by shoving a rotten apple down her throat. He plead guilty for the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter after being charged with second degree murder.

On June 19, 2019, a Polk County district court judge sentenced Michael Bell, Jr. to 10 years after he was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. He was originally charged with the first-degree murder of Jerry Martin of Des Moines after killing Martin with a stick or broom handle stabbing his neck and puncturing his chest. By the way, this happened over a $50 debt.

On November 4th, 2019, a Woodbury County district court judge sentenced a Sioux City man, Elmi Said, to 10 years after he was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. He was originally charged with the 2nd degree murder of his roommate Guled Nur whom he stabbed and kicked.

On Friday, a Cedar Rapids man, Donald Harris, was sentenced to five years for involuntary manslaughter for his role in the 2017 shooting death of Tarrence Newman. He was originally charged with first-degree murder, robbery, and going armed with intent. His sentence came after he made a plea deal with the Linn County Attorney’s office.

Do we see a pattern here? It’s not limited to killers, but some sex offenders as well.

On May 29, 2019, a Des Moines man, 21-year-old John M. Willett, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of third-degree sexual abuse and one count of felony forgery. Willet over the course of four months forced a 13-year-old girl to perform multiple sex acts. He even threatened to kill her according to court records if she did not stay quiet.

On November 21, 2019, Charles Steven Dickenson, of Muscatine who is deemed “a danger to the community” received 11 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to one count of receiving child porn.

What Martinez did was wrong, but this sentence is not just. Prosecutors could have showed more wiggle room in their charges, but didn’t. The idea that he was charged with arson for burning a flag is ludicrous in and of itself. Why not charge for the lesser crime of “criminal mischief in violation of individual rights — hate crime?”

This is also why I dislike and oppose “hate crimes” designations. The idea that a crime is somehow worse because of what someone was thinking is absurd.

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