On Thursday, a white Colorado truck driver was sentenced to 16 years in federal prison and five years of supervised release for a hate crime after repeatedly stabbing a Black man in the neck, completely unprovoked.
In December 2019, 27-year-old Nolan Strauss ambushed Ronnell Hughes, a Black man who was applying for a job in Arby’s at an Oregon truck stop. According to the prosecutor’s sentencing memo, Strauss had told police that he had a “misunderstanding in his head,” that he “kind of lost control,” and that he had a “problem with Black people,” the Oregonian reports.
Strauss pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime involving an attempt to kill.
From the Oregonian:
His lawyer argued that Strauss committed the crime because he was off his mental health medication and in the throes of a manic episode, but prosecutors said there was no mistaking Strauss’ racial animosity precipitating the December 2019 ambush in Ontario.
As truck stop workers restrained Strauss, tying his hands behind his back with a belt until police arrived, one asked him why he attacked a stranger and Strauss responded, “Because he was Black and I don’t like Black people,” according to prosecutors.
“Mr. Strauss left no ambiguity regarding the motive for his attack,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Gavin W. Bruce. “He chose him because he was Black.”
The defense said Strauss was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2016 and has been struggling with his mental health since youth. He also had one prior misdemeanor third-degree assault conviction for slamming a door on the hand of an officer doing a welfare check, the Oregonian reports.
Before the trial even began, Strauss was reportedly sent to the Oregon State Hospital in Salem before he was deemed able to aid-and-assist in his own defense. According to the Oregonian, U.S. District Judge Michael J. McShane said that the hospital reported Strauss was indeed struggling mentally, occasionally using racial slurs, appearing paranoid, disorganized and drinking his own urine.
The Associated Press reports that he also kept repeating many racial epithets and his contempt for Black people during his police interviews. Although he acknowledged Strauss’ mental health condition, McShane said he couldn’t overlook the gravity of the crime.
Hughes, who flew to Oregon from Jacksonville, Fla. on Wednesday night to hear the sentencing, finally got his first good look at Strauss in the courtroom. According to AP, Hughes had never seen Strauss’ face because he was attacked from behind while filling out his job application at the lunch counter.
While addressing the court, the Oregonian reports, Hughes turned to Strauss saying, “You knew exactly what you was doing, man. Exactly, what you was doing.”
The 49-year-old went through months of physical therapy to regain his voice and motion in his arm and neck. Strauss, who had stabbed Hughes twice with a four-inch blade, cut Hughes’ jugular vein and damaged his thyroid cartilage. According to the Oregonian, he had to get 54 staples to close the wound in his neck.
Following the sentencing, Strauss said that he has learned he must always take his medication, “I’m extremely sorry for what I did. I wouldn’t do that in my right state of mind,” he said, according to AP, “I’m happy that he survived.”