Martin Blackwell, 48, has been charged with two counts of aggravated assault for allegedly pouring boiling water on an Atlanta gay couple as they slept, and the FBI announced it is looking into the incident as a hate crime, reports Atlanta broadcaster WSB.
Steve Emmett of the FBI’s Atlanta office told the station Friday that the FBI is working with the College Park Police Department and the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office on the case.
“It’s important for the public to know that we are taking a look at this case,” Emmett told the station.
Blackwell was charged in the February attack on Anthony Gooden, 23, and Marquez Tolbert, 21, who received serious injuries after Blackwell threw boiling water on the sleeping couple at an apartment shared by Gooden and his mother, Kim Foster. Blackwell was Foster’s boyfriend at the time of the attack.
According to a police report obtained by WSB, Blackwell said he was disgusted by the men's relationship and told police, "They'll be all right. It was just a little hot water on them." Meanwhile Tolbert recalled the excruciating pain of the attack. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Tolbert underwent a skin graft, replacing the severely scarred skin across his back with skin from his thigh. “The pain doesn’t let you sleep,” Tolbert told WSB. “It’s just like it’s excruciating 24 hours a day.”
Tolbert told WSB Friday that he believes he is the victim of a hate crime. "Why else would you pour boiling hot water on somebody?" he asked the station. He had said that during the attack, Blackwell said, “Get out of my house with all that gay.”
Both men were seriously injured and have GoFundMe accounts set up by friends and family members. Tolbert suffered severe burns to his back that required surgery, according to the GoFundMe account set up by his mother's friend Vickie Gray. On the page Gray wrote:
"I have watched Marquez's mother suffer right along with him. When he came out to her, she told me that her son being harmed was her greatest fear. It's a shame that our society places that kind on fear in a parent's heart. It gives you a feeling of helplessness, and when it actually occurs, you lose hope. Marquez is home now, but has a long road to recovery. Through it all, he has remained strong and not disheartened by what has happened to him. I am so impressed by his character. He has been focused on healing, and in a way, has been holding up his mother."
Tolbert's cousin Diyawn Jackson set up his account and wrote that she was always afraid something would happen to her cousin due to his sexual orientation, but she never imagined it would be this:
"My family and I were scared for Anthony to come out with his sexual preference in fear that this very hateful act would be brought onto him. But never did we think it would happen in the very place he is suppose to be safe...at his own home by someone he trusted."
Jackson wrote that her cousin had changed since the attack:
"It's so hard for me to look at my cousin in such an emotional state being that before this tragedy he was so independent, happy, outgoing and charismatic.....he was always the life of the party, and was there to help everyone. Now, as I sit and watch him cry and have mental breakdowns asking if there is anything he could have done differently just tears my heart apart. This should NEVER happen to anyone."
Both GoFundMe pages have raised over $60,000 to help pay for the victim's medical expenses.
Blackwell is currently being held in the Fulton County Jail without bond while he awaits legal representation. The LGBT liaison for the Atlanta Police Department took steps to ensure that Blackwell did not make bond, the police told WSB.
Blackwell is charged with two counts of aggravated battery, but there is no hate-crime enhancement, as Georgia does not recognize antigay hate crimes in its statutes. Only 17 states in the U.S. have hate-crimes laws that cover both sexual orientation and gender identity. However, if the federal government becomes involved, Blackwell could be prosecuted under federal hate-crimes law.