Howard man gets three years in Bowie High cross burning

Defendant plotted against blacks, prosecutors say

June 02, 2000|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

The man prosecutors say masterminded the burning of two large crosses at Bowie High School in June 1997 was sentenced yesterday to nearly three years in federal prison.

Robert Trainer, who pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate civil rights laws, offered no apologies at his sentencing before U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow. Trainer, now 20, did say that he is a different person than the 17-year-old who prosecutors said plotted ways to take revenge against black students, and he said jail time would serve no purpose.

"I don't see how I could learn from this in a prison," said Trainer, who lives in Ellicott City and works at a Subway sandwich shop owned by a black businessman.

Federal prosecutors said that in 1997, Trainer was the leader among four men who cobbled together three 12-by-8-foot crosses, then set two of them on fire near the high school football field to intimidate African-American students after an attack on a white student.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex Busansky described Trainer as intent on "driving out black students at Bowie High School by any means necessary," and said he considered hiring a gunman to shoot them.

Defense attorney Arcangelo M. Tuminelli said Trainer's actions were more foolish than racist.

"I don't intend to minimize what happened here. It was wrong. It was inappropriate," Tuminelli said. "But this is not Mississippi in the 1960s. That's not what we're dealing with here."

Trainer could have been sentenced to 30 and 37 months in prison. Chasanow sentenced him to 35 months, acknowledging that he has worked to turn around his life during the past three years. She suggested that Trainer seek anger management counseling and ordered him to perform 100 hours of community service after he is released from prison.

"The community was clearly harmed by this conduct, and you can pay it back by giving some of your time in that manner," Chasanow said.

Three other men faced federal civil rights charges after an FBI investigation of the cross burnings. One of the men, Brian Swetnam, was sentenced in April to 10 years in prison. Patrick Trainer, Robert's brother, and Derek Schleicher have pleaded guilty and await sentencing.

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