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Hate Crime Laws: Iowa Man Sentenced to 16 Years for Burning Gay-Pride Flag

(File photo: Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

Adolfo Martinez of Iowa has an extensive criminal record, littered with arrests and convictions. In June, he stole a congregational church’s gay-pride flag and set it ablaze. In Iowa, as elsewhere, it is illegal to steal another’s property. It is also illegal to set such things on fire. Under Iowa law, Martinez’s flag-burning constituted a hate crime, which aggravates the offense. State law enhances the sentencing guidelines for habitual offenders.

Ames, Iowa, police commander Jason Tuttle said that Martinez “told the people in the bar that he was going to burn the place to the ground and at that point he made reference to burning ‘their flag.’”

NBC News reports that he has been sentenced to 16 years in prison for the act — “15 years for the hate crime of arson,” as well as “a year for reckless use of explosives or fire and 30 days for harassment.”

Yes, Adolfo Martinez has an extensive criminal background. Yes, it is a crime to steal another’s property and set it on fire. Yes, as the law is written, he committed a hate crime, as his desire to burn the flag was rooted in, in the words of Story County Attorney Jessica Reynolds, “what it represents as far as sexual orientation.”

Consider a few other criminal sentences handed down in Iowa, for context.

Michael Bell Jr. was sentenced to ten years in prison for using a stick to kill a Des Moines resident. Witnesses saw Bell impale the victim multiple times with the murder weapon.

Elmi Said was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to ten years in prison. He stabbed his roommate to death.

Joseph Duane Hubbard of Iowa was sentenced to ten years in prison for shoving apples down his mother’s throat, choking her to death. (Hubbard’s mother had reportedly “grabbed a knife to scare him” during a heated argument.)

John M. Willett sexually abused a 13-year-old girl and threatened to kill the victim and her family “if she was not quiet.” He was sentenced to ten years in prison.

None of those crimes were motivated by “hate,” apparently.

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