2 to Be Charged With Hate Crime in Killing

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Prosecutors said they plan to file hate-crime charges today against a suspected skinhead accused of killing a black man during a Huntington Beach dispute and attempting to kill two Latino men in an assault a month earlier.

Additional hate-crime charges will also be lodged against a 17-year-old who is charged in the Huntington Beach murder, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Jim Tanizaki.

Both defendants are scheduled to be arraigned on the new charges this morning in Municipal Court in Westminster. The charges--that the crimes were racially motivated--make them eligible for longer sentences if convicted.

Investigators believe that Jonathan Kennedy, 19, of Huntington Beach and Robert Wofford, 17, of Laguna Niguel are involved with white-supremacist groups, although their level of involvement remains under investigation, Tanizaki said.

Tanizaki alleged that the September killing of Vernon Windell Flournoy, 44, of Huntington Beach and the August attack on Angel Campos Silia and Juan Vergara, both 22, were racially motivated. Flournoy was shot after an apparent dispute with both suspects. Authorities alleged that Kennedy shot Silia and Vergara without provocation.

"We feel the evidence definitely shows the crimes alleged in the complaints were hate crimes against all three of the victims," Tanizaki said.

Defense attorneys for Kennedy and Wofford could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.

The case marks the latest in a recent series of violent attacks against Orange County minorities and gays that some activists say is part of a countywide escalation of hate crimes.

Kennedy and Wofford--who is being prosecuted as an adult--are each charged with one count of murder and using a weapon. Kennedy is additionally charged with two counts of attempted murder, weapons counts and causing severe injury to Silia and Vergara, who are recovering from their gunshot wounds.

The pair face at least 15 years to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder in the case. The hate-crime allegations would add up to four more years in prison, Tanizaki said. Kennedy faces an additional six years in prison if convicted of the hate-crime allegations relating to the attempted murders, Tanizaki said.

But Tanizaki said he has not ruled out the possibility that prosecutors will seek first-degree murder convictions and file the hate crime as a so-called special circumstance allegation.

Upgrading the charges could make Kennedy eligible for the death penalty and send Wofford, if convicted, to prison for life without possibility of parole.

Tanizaki said the Huntington Beach Police Department has been methodically investigating the case and noted that proving a hate crime makes the job doubly difficult.

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