Last week, Alexander Jerich, now 20, received an unusual order: Write a 25-page essay about the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in 2016.
Jerich has until his sentencing on June 8 to complete the essay, according to court records. His lawyer did not immediately respond to The Washington Post’s request for comment.
Explaining the task last Thursday, Palm Beach County Judge Scott Suskauer said he wanted Jerich to investigate the 49 people killed after an armed man who pledged allegiance to Islamic State opened fire inside the gay nightclub in Orlando, the Palm Beach Post reported.
“I want your own brief summary of why people are so hateful and why people turn against the gay community,” Suskauer said according to the newspaper.
Suskauer is not the first judge to turn punishments into instructive moments for defendants. In February, a judge ordered a man pleading guilty to participating in the Capitol riot to spend 60 hours reading about U.S. government and society. A Missouri judge in 2018 ordered a sniper to see “Bambi” at least once a month for a year. In 2010, a Michigan judge ordered a teenager who killed a woman in a collision to read three books a month because the woman who died was an avid reader. And a landlord in Ohio who in 2008 was found to be violating several building codes was put under house arrest for six months in one of his units.
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The mural at an intersection in Delray Beach was unveiled on June 12, 2021, the fifth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting. Two days later, Jerich was caught in a cell phone video approaching the intersection around 6 p.m. 8pm in his white Chevy pickup with a Donald Trump flag hanging on his back. Jerich was part of a 30-car rally for former President Trump’s birthday on June 14, police said.
As he drove over the mural, “Jerich deliberately accelerated the vehicle in an unreasonably uncertain manner in a short time, commonly referred to as a ‘burnout,'” the statement said. “The Chevy truck keeps slipping recklessly sideways.”
The video shows two long tire marks stained over the mural, which caused thousands of dollars in damage, police said.
On June 15, a man contacted the Delray Beach Police Department and said he had witnessed the vandalism and recorded the incident on his phone. The witness also said he heard someone yelling at the man in the Chevy to “tear up the gay intersection.”
The officers were able to track Jerich through the license plate in the video. Police contacted him on June 17, and he agreed to give himself up, the statement said. He was arrested and issued $ 1,000 bail the same day.
Jerich pleaded guilty to criminal misconduct and reckless driving in March and agreed to pay $ 2,003 to repair the mural, according to court documents. The Palm Beach County State Attorney did not add a charge of hate crimes because the Florida Statute states that there must be a specific victim who is targeted.
The vandalism caused uprisings in the community in South Florida. In a statement affecting the victim, Rand Hoch, president of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, wrote that the crossing was intended to make people feel “proud, safe and welcome in Delray Beach. Now we feel angry, threatened and vulnerable.” He begged the judge to sentence Jerich to prison.
“He was not just a young man fooling around with his truck,” Hoch wrote. “… Jerich literally left traces of hatred.”
Prosecutors have requested that the judge sentence Jerich to 30 days in prison and five years probation.
Jerich cried during the hearing last Thursday and apologized for the vandalism, according to the Palm Beach Post, but he did not explain his actions.
“I’ve had trouble fitting in in the past,” Jerich said. “I was just trying to fit in and be accepted.”
Suskauer, the judge, showed sympathy for Jerich and noted that he did not want the young man’s record to follow him for the rest of his life, the Palm Beach Post reported. He added that he wants Jerich to volunteer for LGBTQ organizations.