A jury last week found former Guerneville homeless resident Vincent O’Sullivan guilty of a hate crime for threatening to blow up gays in Guerneville, including a Guerneville Starbucks employee who is gay.

Judge Peter Ottenweller ordered O’Sullivan be handcuffed and taken into county custody after the verdict last Thursday afternoon.

“The verdict’s message is that hate is not tolerated in this town,” said Beth Streets, a former Guerneville resident who followed the O’Sullivan case and was a witness in the trial. “I think my presence made it clear someone is paying attention.”

“I’m hoping people will be more aware” that hate speech is a crime and is totally unacceptable, especially in a gay-friendly town like Guerneville, said Streets, who celebrated the guilty verdict with friends Thursday night at Guerneville’s Smart Pizza restaurant on the town plaza. (O’Sullivan was also found guilty this year of stealing a rainbow gay pride flag from the plaza flagpole.)

Smart Pizza owner Suzy Kuhr also testified in the trial, along with Hank Myers, the Guerneville Starbucks’ employee who was making O’Sullivan a coffee drink when he heard O’Sullivan say, “I’m going to blow you up, you [expletive] faggot” and threaten to kill “all the [expletive] faggots” in Guerneville.

The jurors, seven men and five women, deliberated two days before issuing their verdict last Thursday afternoon.

The guilty verdict on two felony hate crime counts means O’Sullivan could be looking at three years in state prison when he returns to court on April 4 to be sentenced.

Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch applauded the verdict in a media announcement last week.

“The jury further found this threat constituted a hate crime in that O’Sullivan made this threat in part because his targeted victim was homosexual,” said Ravitch.

“In our society free speech is a valuable right. And yet, this is not an unfettered right. When speech crosses over into threats that are specific, immediate and intended to be conveyed as threats, that can become a crime,” said Ravitch.

The charge of criminal threats stemmed from an incident on May 12, 2018, when O’Sullivan entered the Guerneville Safeway to buy coffee at the Starbucks kiosk.

“The lone barista working behind the counter, Hank Myers, a gay man, recognized O’Sullivan as a regular customer and sought to strike up a conversation at the register,” said the D.A.’s media announcement.

“Using a combination of homophobic slurs and foul language, O’Sullivan responded by calmly stating that he was in the process of building pipe bombs to blow up the barista, Safeway and the Guerneville Sheriff substation. The victim [Hank Myers] testified at trial that this threat gave him nightmares for weeks afterwards.”

The felony hate-crime charge hinged not so much on whether O’Sullivan made the threat but whether it met the legal requirements of state penal code statute 422(a). At issue throughout the trial was whether Myers had experienced “sustained fear” as a result of O’Sullivan’s threat.

In addition to evidence of the threat, jurors also heard about a crime that occurred three days prior to the Safeway threat. On May 9, 2018, O’Sullivan had taken part in the theft of a gay pride flag from the Veterans Memorial flagpole in the Guerneville plaza, said Ravitch. “When arrested for that theft, O’Sullivan described the flying of the flag as ‘disgraceful and offensive,’ claiming it had no place on the pole which was dedicated to veterans,” said Ravitch. O’Sullivan was charged separately with the theft of that flag and was convicted of that misdemeanor petty theft offense in July 2018.

The felony case was prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Brian Morimune who was assisted by victim advocate Elizabeth Garcia. Deputy Timothy Wright of the Sonoma Sherriff’s Department headed the investigation.

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