Misdirected Muslim hatred leads to long punishment in Fresno Sikh attack

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A blindside attack on an 82-year-old man has earned a Fresno man 13 years in prison.

For months, pain greeted Piara Singh in the morning and pain followed him to bed. Then 82, Singh's punctured lung, broken ribs, and bruises healed slowly. Two-and-a-half years later, the mental scars still sting.

"Although he has recovered from his wounds after the attack, he still has flashbacks," said community activist Ike Grewal, who frequently speaks to Singh's family. "He still is afraid."

Singh had just finished preparing meals for the hungry when Gilbert Garcia spotted him outside a Southwest Fresno temple. Garcia screamed something about the Taliban and Muslims as he attacked a man of a different faith.

"The Sikhs continue to be mistaken as terrorists because our media tends to show instances of terrorist attacks and images of the terrorists wearing turbans," said Grewal.

Prosecutors charged the case as a hate crime, but Garcia's defense attorney claimed he was mentally incompetent. Doctors determined Garcia was mostly faking it, although even the judge agreed he must've been a little unbalanced.

"It stands to reason from common sense that anyone who would engage in this type of horrific behavior would be someone who is classified as not necessarily being normal," said Fresno County Superior Court Judge Alvin Harrell III.

Garcia's attempts to hide from police -- even masking himself in pepper spray when police dogs closed in on him -- also proved he wasn't insane, just full of hatred for a man he didn't understand.

"The bottom line is justice was meted out today and in our community, if you're going to commit a hate crime, you're going to go to prison," said prosecutor Tim Donovan.

Sikh leaders hope Singh's pain will at least lead to a better understanding of a community hard at work to fit in as Americans.

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