Wiesel assaulter sentenced

August 18, 2008 7:26:50 PM PDT
A New Jersey man convicted of a hate crime after confronting Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel in a San Francisco hotel in 2007 was ordered to undergo mental health treatment when he returns home, following his release from custody today after serving about a year and a half in a San Francisco jail cell.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Robert Dondero this afternoon sentenced 24-year-old Eric Hunt to two years in prison, but after spending 549 days in jail and with 274 days credit for good behavior while in custody, Hunt will go free on the condition that he report to a residential mental health facility when he returns to New Jersey.

Hunt, of Sussex County, N.J., who reportedly suffers from bipolar disorder, was found guilty July 21 of felony false imprisonment as a hate crime for the Feb. 1, 2007 incident at the former Argent Hotel. He was also convicted of two misdemeanors, elder abuse and battery, but acquitted of attempted kidnapping, false imprisonment by violence or menace, false imprisonment of an elder, and stalking.

Dondero said that while the case was "arguably overcharged," Hunt's actions represented "a serious affront" to "a respected, important member of our community."

Dondero also agreed that Hunt has "a substantial acute mental problem" and "knew the legal right from wrong, but not the moral right from wrong."

During the incident, Hunt approached Wiesel in an elevator during a conference on peace that Wiesel was attending at the hotel and demanded an interview, according to court testimony.

On the sixth floor, where Hunt had rented a room after reportedly trailing Wiesel across the country, Hunt pulled Wiesel off the elevator and tried to get him to come to his room for a videotaped interview. Wiesel then began screaming for help and Hunt left.

About two weeks later, Hunt was arrested in a mental hospital in New Jersey, a few days after posting an essay about the encounter on a Web site promulgating Holocaust denial. He has remained in custody in a San Francisco jail ever since.

The essay called Wiesel "a genocidal liar" and referred to Wiesel's published memoir about the Holocaust, "Night," as "almost entirely fictitious."

Wiesel, now 79, was unhurt during the incident but testified during Hunt's trial that the encounter shocked and frightened him, especially after later reading Hunt's essay. He now always travels with security, he said.

Prosecutor Alan Kennedy argued Hunt had long-standing, racist beliefs and was intent on proving the Holocaust was a lie. Hunt's attorney John Runfola said doctors evaluating Hunt concluded he suffers from bipolar disorder and was having a psychotic break at the time.

Kennedy, arguing for a three-year prison sentence today, called Hunt's Internet diatribe "boastful, hateful, intolerant and, in an ultimate understatement, misinformed."

Hunt then stood before Dondero and read from a hand-written letter addressed to Wiesel, in which he apologized profusely for what was "the culmination of a severe mental breakdown" resulting from his previously undiagnosed condition, he said.

"I had been sucked into anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on the Internet denying the occurrence of the Holocaust and the genocide of Jews by the Nazis during World War II," Hunt said.

"I do not deny the Holocaust," he said. "I am not a Nazi, racist, white supremacist or anti-Semite."

Hunt added that he had "tremendous remorse" for frightening Wiesel and was "incredibly embarrassed" about the incident.

"I don't believe any of that garbage now that I'm taking my medication," said Hunt.

Hunt concluded by thanking "the many members of the Jewish community for forgiving and supporting my family during these difficult times."

Representatives of the local chapter of the Anti-Defamation League said after the hearing that they were satisfied with Hunt's conviction and sentence.

"I think that what the court did today was reassure the Jewish community that they are protected by the law," said Anti-Defamation League Central Pacific Region Director Jonathan Bernstein.

Dondero also ordered Hunt to stay 150 yards away from Wiesel, to pay a $1,000 restitution fine, and for Hunt's four-year probationary term to be transferred to authorities in New Jersey.

"You have got to maintain mental health treatment," Dondero told Hunt. "This behavior cannot be allowed to happen again."

"Yes, your honor," Hunt responded.


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