Marines won't face hate crime charges, FBI says

Two Beaufort Marines accused of attacking a gay man in downtown Savannah in June will not face federal hate crime charges, an FBI spokesman in Atlanta said Wednesday.

Steve Emmett of the FBI said officials from the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., determined the circumstances surrounding the alleged assault June 12 did not warrant the elevated charges.

The Marines, assigned to different F-18 Hornet squadrons at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, still face misdemeanor battery charges for allegedly punching the man in the back of the head during an incident near the intersection of Congress and Bull streets.

The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet do not name people charged with misdemeanor crimes or their victims.

Gena Moore, spokeswoman for Savannah-Chatham Metro Police, declined to comment Wednesday on whether the department was satisfied with the Justice Department's decision.

"We have not gone to court yet on the case," Moore said. "Let's wait till the facts come out before we (comment) one way or another."

The Georgia Supreme Court struck down that state's hate crime law in 2004, ruling it was too vague.

The Marines are due in Chatham County Recorder's Court on Sept. 9 for a hearing that has twice been delayed by Judge Claire Cornwell-Williams to allow prosecutors and defense attorneys more time to review evidence in the case.

The outcome of the hearing could determine what, if any, military charges the two Marines will face, said Master Sgt. Chad McMeen, air station spokesman.

"Everything hinges on that court case," McMeen said. "We're going to let the civilian process take its course and go from there."