A jury in Multnomah County, Oregon handed down a guilty verdict Tuesday in the case against a white supremacist gang member accused of hitting and killing a 19–year–old Black man with his car in August 2016.
Russell Courtier, 40, was found guilty on three charges, including murder, intimidation (Oregon’s hate crime law) and failure to perform duties of a driver. The Wilamette Week reported that jurors voted unanimously on the murder and failure to perform charges but were split 10-2 on the intimidation charge.
Oregon is the only state that doesn’t require a unanimous verdict on a felony charge other than murder, the newspaper notes.
Courtier was charged with a hate crime after authorities said he drove his girlfriend’s red Jeep into 19-year-old Larnell Bruce Jr. on Aug. 10, 2016, killing the young man. The two had gotten into an argument, then fought outside a 7-Eleven convenience store moments before Bruce was mowed down. It’s unclear what sparked the deadly altercation.
Courtier’s girlfriend, Colleen Hunt, was also charged in the incident after witnesses told police they heard her encouraging her man to hurt Bruce, shouting, “Get him baby” and “Run him over!” Hunt has already pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter charges in the young man’s slaying.
The 37-year-old could face life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years. Hunt waived her right to a jury trial and is expected to be sentenced later this week.
Bruce’s family, who attended much of Courtier’s week-long trial, let out audible sighs of relief upon hearing the jury’s verdict, the Portland Mercury reported. Meanwhile, Courtier seemed upset by the decision and was seen clenching and un-clenching his fists as the judge polled the jurors on their verdict.
According to The Oregonian, his conviction marks Oregon’s first hate crime murder conviction in three years.
“I’m so happy,” said Bruce’s mother, Christina Miles, after Tuesday’s decision.
Just last week, Courtier’s lawyer Kevin Sali tried arguing that a head injury his client had sustained during his fight with Bruce — not his racist ideologies — spurred him to run the young man over with his car. Courtier is an ex-con and has been linked to white nationalist prison gang the European Kings. In court, prosecutors pointed to an “EK” tattoo on Courtier’s forearm linking him to the group.
“What this case is going to turn on is what was in Mr. Courtier’s mind,” Sali told the jurors. “How calmly and rationally was he able to make decisions and understand everything going around him in that extremely threatening, traumatic situation?”
“Russell Courtier never wanted any of this to happen,” he added. “It’s not what anybody would call a fight. Mr. Courtier is alone, unarmed. … Mr. Courtier is struck over and over, including in the head and the face.”
Prosecutors painted a much different picture, however, and described how Courtier and his girlfriend chased Bruce around the parking lot with their vehicle, barely missing him as he zigzagged onto the sidewalk and fled into the street. That’s when the ex-con crossed multiple lanes of oncoming traffic in hot pursuit of the teen before “intentionally striking him with the front of the vehicle.”
It’s unclear when Courtier will be sentenced.