By Camille Beredjick
Originally published on Advocate.com August 15 2012 1:29 PM ET
A Missouri teenager has been charged with a hate crime after police say she and her siblings attacked a lesbian neighbor, the Southeast Missourian reports.
On July 24, then-16-year-old Mercedes M. Ayers came to Jeana Terry's home uninvited and pulled the woman out of her house. Ayers, her two younger siblings, and some of their friends punched and stomped on Terry while yelling racial and homophobic slurs.
Terry is openly gay and lives with her partner, Lisa Lange. According to a probable cause statement filed by John Volkerding, an investigator with the prosecutor's office, this was not the first time Ayers had targeted the women with derogatory comments about their sexual orientation.
Now 17, Ayers was prosecuted as an adult and has been charged with burglary and assault. Her 13-year-old sister is on probation and her 11-year-old brother is too young to be certified as an adult, though he was arrested recently in an unrelated armed robbery case.
For the charge of first-degree burglary for entering Terry's home, Ayers could face five to 15 years in prison if convicted. For third-degree assault, she could face one to four years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines.
The punishment for third-degree assault is normally less severe, but Ayers faces harsher penalties because Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle believes the assault was a hate crime.
"In Cape Girardeau County, thankfully, hate crimes are rare," Swingle told the Missourian. "We have maybe one a year at the most. In proving the motive, we have to prove it just like any other fact — have testimony and evidence to prove the motive, either by eyewitnesses or confession. So that's our allegation, and we intend to prove it."