Fresno hate crime motivated by mistaken religious identity

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The Valley's Sikh community awaits closure in a hate crime attack they believe was actually a case of mistaken religious identity.

"It's not acceptable to attack an old, 82-year-old, person minding his own business outside our temple," said Sikh community advocate Ike Grewal.

The Fresno man who beat the 82-year-old a couple years ago has admitted his crime, but his punishment has now been delayed three times.

The pain was still a daily reality for Piara Singh when Action News met up with him two weeks after the attack. Gilbert Garcia, Jr., had used a metal pipe to bash the elderly man just outside the Southwest Fresno Sikh temple where he'd been preparing free meals for the hungry.

Singh got two dozen stitches on his head, a punctured lung and broken ribs. Two years later, his injuries have healed, but the pain is now mental.

"He has made good progress," Grewal said. "He is doing fine, but he too is anxious. He's so afraid now. That has affected him and he is traumatized by the event."

But neither Singh nor the Sikh community has been able to put it behind them yet. Garcia pleaded "no contest" in February, admitting to elder abuse and a hate crime. His hatred is particularly troubling to Sikhs because it was misdirected.

"The Sikhs have been attacked all over the United States after 9/11 and this is not acceptable because we have been mistaken as radicals when we are not," Grewal said.

They believe the beards and turbans worn by many Sikhs make them targets for people like Garcia, who act out of hatred towards another faith. Although he was silent during the attack, investigators say Garcia made inflammatory comments after his arrest. Legally speaking, though, ABC30 legal analyst Tony Capozzi says it doesn't matter who he hated, as long as hate drove his attack.

"His hatred was the focus, the driving force, towards that belief," he said. "And the fact that the victim wasn't of the religion he thought it was is of no consequence."

The hate crime enhancement could add as many as three years to Garcia's punishment. He's facing a maximum of 13 years in prison when he's sentenced. The Sikh community will be watching.
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