An Alsip man was sentenced today to probation and ordered to write an essay about the lynching of blacks in America after he pleaded guilty to an attack two years ago in which he and two friends put a noose around the neck of an African-American teenager and threatened to kill him.
Matthew Herrmann, who turns 20 on Thursday, is white and originally was charged as an adult with felony counts of committing a hate crime, unlawful restraint and battery.
But in an unusual deal with Cook County prosecutors, Herrmann pleaded guilty last year to a misdemeanor count of battery and agreed to participate in a "peacemaking circle" with the victim, family, clergy and school counselors. The approach – typically used only in juvenile cases – is designed to provide healing for the victim as well as resolve the underlying issues that caused the act, according to prosecutors.
Criminal Court Judge James Linn agreed today to go along with the deal and sentenced Herrmann to 2 years of probation for the misdemeanor conviction. Herrmann must also participate in a follow-up peacemaking circle with the victim and write the essay on lynching.
"They didn't give me a word count," Herrmann said after court as he clutched his probation papers. "I guess I'll just do a three-page average paper that I would do for school."
Prosecutors said Herrmann, then 18, and two juveniles aged 16 and 17 at the time put a noose around the victim's neck and hurled racial epithets at him because they were upset about the victim's relationship with one of the boys' female cousins.
The victim was able to escape the noose but when he ran out of the house the 16-year-old boy allegedly held a knife to his throat and threatened to kill him, according to the charges.
In an interview with the Tribune a few weeks after the attack, the victim, Joshua Merritt, said he felt his assailants "were being serious" and that if he hadn't fled he "might be dead."
After today's sentencing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, Herrmann declined to discuss the specifics of the incident but denied any racial motivation. He said he had already apologized to Merritt, whom he still sees occasionally at Moraine Valley Community College, where both attend classes.
The other two assailants were charged as juveniles. Earlier this month, the boy who was 17 at the time pleaded guilty to battery, was sentenced to 2 years of probation and was also ordered to take part in a peacemaking circle, said Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office.
Charges against the third teen were being handled by Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office because his mother works for the state's attorney's office. He is scheduled to plead guilty next week.