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Defendant in
infamous hate-crime case asks for reduced sentence

Defendant in
infamous hate-crime case asks for reduced sentence

A man convicted of the deadly beating that prompted Connecticut's hate-crimes law sobbed Thursday as he asked for forgiveness from the victim's family.

A man convicted of the deadly beating that prompted Connecticut's hate-crimes law sobbed Thursday as he asked for forgiveness from the victim's family. Sean Burke, 35, was in Manchester superior court seeking a reduction of his 40-year prison sentence for taking part in the fatal beating of Richard Reihl, a gay man, in 1988. "I beg for your forgiveness," Burke told Reihl's siblings Thursday. "I don't care about the time. I just beg for your forgiveness. My soul, your honor, it's empty, and I want to use my life for the reparation of Richard's life." Burke, who pleaded guilty to murder and other charges, is seeking a "sentence modification" under a little-used law that allows a judge to reopen the case if both the prosecution and defense attorneys agree to a hearing. Burke had asked for the hearing based on a memo that then-prosecutor Kevin McMahon, now a superior court judge, wrote after Burke was originally sentenced in 1989. In it McMahon said he would support another look at Burke's 40-year sentence if Burke could prove that he was not a hardened criminal. Judge Raymond Norko, who issued the original sentence in 1989, agreed to hold the hearing. He asked prosecutors if they could recall a similar case, and they could not. Norko did not say when he would rule on Burke's request. He asked both sides to submit written arguments on application of the sentence modification law by December 2. Burke and a friend, Marcos Perez, were convicted in 1989, when they were teenagers. Perez, who is serving a 35-year sentence, had his request for a reduction hearing denied. Prosecutors said Reihl met the two at a gay bar and invited them to his Wethersfield home. They bound his mouth with duct tape and beat him to death with a fireplace log. Friends and prison counselors described Burke as a model inmate who has sought redemption since the day he was sentenced to prison, literally becoming an altar boy and counseling children and others. Those who spoke on his behalf included Bill Cannon, a gay man who said he was once thrown into a ravine in Idaho and left to die. Cannon developed a relationship with Burke after writing him a hate-filled letter following Burke's conviction. Instead of finding an evil homophobe, he said he found a remorseful and scared young man. "I learned that no one has a monopoly on hate," he said. "Without hesitation, I would welcome Sean into my home." But Reihl's family asked the judge not to reconsider Burke's sentence, saying it would send an inconceivable message about the tolerance for hate crimes. "This was the hate crime," Robert Reihl, the victim's brother, pointed out. Hartford state attorney Jim Thomas also opposed a sentence reduction, saying that nothing Burke has done to rehabilitate himself in prison warrants a sentence reduction. "One of the purposes of sentencing is also punishment," he pointed out. Former state lawmaker Miles Rapoport, who cosponsored the hate-crimes legislation that took effect in 1990, said Thursday that Reihl's death was the catalyst. "This murder struck huge fear into the gay community in Hartford," he said. "Seventeen years ago, there was a great deal less acceptance of homosexuality, and tolerance was not necessarily presumed. People were frightened, people were deeply concerned, and they wanted legislative action." (AP)

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