UPDATE (Wednesday, April 17, 10:12 a.m.) – A Multnomah County judge sentenced Russell Courtier to life in prison for the 2016 murder of Larnell Bruce Jr. Courtier will serve at least 30 years before becoming eligible for parole.
Last month, a jury convicted Courtier of murder and second-degree intimidation, which functions as Oregon’s hate crime statute. He was also convicted of failure to perform the duty of a driver.
Surveillance video played at the trial showed Courtier and Bruce in an altercation in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven convenience store in Gresham in 2016.
The video shows the men going in different directions initially, but Courtier then chased and fatally struck Bruce with a Jeep Wrangler.
Courtier has ties to the white supremacist prison gang European Kindred. Bruce was a 19-year-old black man.
During sentencing Tuesday, prosecutors argued Courtier treated Bruce as “less than a human being.”
“He hunted Larnell Bruce. He hunted Larnell Bruce because of a fight that he lost and because of his affiliation with a white supremacist organization and gang,” said Multnomah County Senior Deputy District Attorney David Hannon.
Speaking before the sentencing, Bruce’s parents asked the judge to deliver the largest sentence possible. Courtier received life in prison for the murder charge with the chance to apply for parole after 25 years, 36 months for the hit and run charge and one year, to be served concurrently with the other sentences, for the hate crime charge.
Jurors in the case delivered a nonunanimous verdict on the intimidation charge. Oregon is the only state in the country that allows juries to split 10-2 on a charge other than murder and still convict a person. The jury unanimously convicted Courtier of the other charges.
The Jeep used in the attack belonged to Courtier’s girlfriend, Colleen Hunt, who was in the passenger seat when Bruce was hit. Witnesses said they heard Hunt telling Courtier to go after Bruce at the time of the incident. She pleaded guilty to manslaughter for the attack.
Hunt was sentenced to 10 years with no parole.
This case has brought Oregon’s hate crime laws under scrutiny. Despite the jury convicting Courtier of committing a heinous crime and taking Bruce’s life because the color of his skin, he was only charged with a misdemeanor hate crime. Under Oregon law, two people must commit a crime of intimidation in order for it to be considered a felony.
When Hunt took the plea deal to avoid a trial and harsher sentence, Courtier’s charge was lowered to a misdemeanor.
Legislators in Oregon and advocacy groups are working on strengthening the state hate crime law to give it more teeth and to streamline the process for reporting hate crimes.
The bill currently making its way through the state House would expand the definition of protected groups when it comes to hate crime victims. During Courtier’s sentencing Tuesday, the judge and the chief prosecutor noted the impact Courtier’s case has made on communities of color.
“This incident, unlike other violent acts, did not just impact immediate family, extended family and close friends of the victim. This had a dramatic impact on a community,” Hannon said. “… The passion and fear related to the violence in this case was consistent and unwavering.”
Larnell Bruce’s family has created a foundation in honor of their son to help victims of hate crimes.