Victory in Little 5 hate case 

Chris Botts becomes first Georgia felon guilty of a hate crime

The 21-year-old woman with the Betty Page bangs and rhinestone earrings, the girlish voice and lingering baby fat, hardly cut the image of a violent and vitriolic racist as she stood before a Fulton County Superior Court judge Oct. 16 and pleaded guilty to eight felonies.

Nor was there a hint of hate in Angelina Pisciotta's cerulean-eyed, baby-faced co-defendant, Chris Botts, who pleaded guilty four days later.

Yet witnesses recalling Pisciotta's and Botts' behavior on the streets of Little Five Points in April 2002 describe a different pair -- a young man and woman who prompted the first felony prosecution under Georgia's 3-year-old hate crime law.

On Oct. 21, the day after Botts' plea, Fulton Superior Court Judge Marvin Arrington found the 26-year-old guilty of beating two black men solely because they were black. As of press time, Arrington had not yet ruled as to whether Pisciotta's crimes were motivated by hate. But it doesn't look so good for her, seeing that about a dozen witnesses and cops described how she, like Botts, savagely kicked two black men in the head, screaming that they were "niggers" and yelling slurs at the crowd and police, such as, "If you ain't white, you ain't right."

Georgia's hate crime statute calls for a two-phase trial, starting with a determination of guilt (or, in this case, a guilty plea) followed by a determination of whether bias or prejudice motivated the crime. If the judge or jury finds a victim was chosen based on race, religion or sexual orientation, the defendant faces up to five additional years in prison and must serve at least 90 percent of his or her sentence.

The ruling in the Little Five Points case -- which was issued by a judge rather than a jury, at the defense attorneys' urging -- brought to the surface the widespread but often unacknowledged discomfort surrounding race in Atlanta in the post-Civil Rights era.

Both Arrington and Fulton County prosecutor Holly Hughes alluded to the painful repercussions of Botts' and Pisciotta's behavior -- pain that transcends an unprovoked and bloody attack against two black men in what's supposed to be one of Atlanta's most liberal communities.

"This type of conduct cannot be tolerated in a free society," Arrington, reading from a prepared statement, told the court after finding Botts guilty of a hate crime. He said he was "more troubled today than I've ever been troubled in my experience on the bench."

It was the second such speech the judge gave regarding the intensity of his feelings for the Little Five case. In both speeches, the 62-year-old judge recalled his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, as well as being spat on by a white man as a child and being prejudiced against in his early years as an attorney.

"We have not come as far as we'd all like to believe," Hughes said in her closing statement.

Like Pisciotta and Botts, a third defendant, Ulysses Andrade, 28, pleaded guilty to six counts of aggravated assault and one count of criminal damage. (Pisciotta also pleaded to simple assault of a peace officer.) Arrington told the court all three defendants would likely be sentenced Oct. 23. Andrade, however, was spared the hate crime designation, for obvious reasons. Not a single witness recalled Andrade saying a word during the assault, nor did he play a role in instigating it. Witnesses only said that he quickly jumped in to help his friends.

On April 6, 2002, Che Golden, an Atlanta IBM employee, had just met up with his brother Idris, a fifth-grade English teacher visiting from Baltimore. They were shopping for records in Little Five Points when they passed Pisciotta, Botts and Andrade, sitting by the curb panhandling. Pisciotta and Botts were also taunting black passersby, singing Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin'," according to testimony. Witnesses said Botts looked at the Goldens and said, "Give them a quarter and watch the monkeys dance."

"Don't be disrespectful," Idris Golden replied, according to several witnesses. Botts then came up behind Idris and pushed him.

Within minutes, the Golden brothers were on the ground. Che's head was repeatedly bashed into a brick wall, Idris' against a fire hydrant. In the end, about eight of Idris' dreadlocks were pulled from his head and lay on the sidewalk, according to court documents. All the while, witnesses said, Pisciotta was screaming, "You're going to die today, nigger" while pummeling one Golden brother, then the other. Neither Che nor Idris fought back, witnesses testified.

"I felt like I was watching a scene from the movie American History X," a witness, Katie Wassil, wrote in a statement filed with the court.

When the police arrived and took the three attackers into Little Five's mini-precinct, Pisciotta and Botts kept mouthing off about blacks to the white cops. Officer Heather Panter, who walked into the mini-precinct to wash from her hands Idris' blood, testified that Botts said to her: "Thank God, it's one of us."

"I advised them," Panter said, "that in no way, shape or form am I one of them."

Pisciotta's attorney Brandon Lewis said shortly after she pleaded guilty that he would push for a light sentence for his client: six years, to serve four. The judge said that number "didn't sit well." But Lewis insisted that because his client has no violent criminal history, because she was a teenager at the time of the attack and because she was remorseful, she should be shown mercy. He pointed to a letter Pisciotta wrote to the Goldens from jail, begging forgiveness.

"I'm just easily tempted by the sins of the world and on that day every single thing that was happening in my life seemed to overflow my heart," wrote Pisciotta, whom Lewis described as a bounced-around foster kid who'd been living on the street, or close to it, since she was 17. "I know that you may look at me as a monster but really I'm not. I was just faceing alot [sic] of pain."

It's likely that Botts' past, as outlined in the court record, will come up during his sentencing, and it likely won't do him any favors.

In 1997, Botts was arrested for breaking in to his estranged girlfriend's Marietta apartment and surprising her when she arrived home. He hit her repeatedly, enough for her to be hospitalized and held a knife to her throat, according to incident reports. He was upset, one report stated, "because she has ... a black friend and he does not like black people."

And although Botts' attorney is trying to suppress one piece of evidence allegedly describing that rage, a photo of it exists in the court file. It's an image of Botts' forearm, with a tattoo bearing a word: "hate."

mara.shalhoup@creativeloafing.com

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