An Iowa judge sentenced a man to 16 years in prison for burning an LGBTQ flag Wednesday, sending shock waves across the country. Typically, flag burners see little to no jail time. But because it was a hate crime committed by a repeated offender, the book was thrown at him.
In June, 30-year-old Adolfo Martinez was arrested after he stole a gay pride banner hanging at Ames United Church of Christ. Then he burned it outside the “Dangerous Curves Gentleman’s Club.”
He was found guilty last month of “third-degree arson in violation of individual rights — hate crime, third-degree harassment, and reckless use of fire as a habitual offender.”
Martinez had shown no remorse after he was arrested in June.
“It was an honor to (burn the flag),” Martinez told KCCI. “It’s a blessing from the Lord.” When asked if he would fight the charges, he answered, “No! I’m guilty as charged.”
Eileen Gebbie, the openly gay pastor of Ames Church of Christ, said the sentencing was both “heartbreaking and justified,” according to KCCI.
“Nobody got shot (and) nobody was sexually assaulted,” Gebbie said. “It was a banner. How much does that hurt? But I had to reflect on the fear it created in our sanctuary. People became afraid to go to church. We had to continue to talk about how to prepare for an active shooter and we learned from the trial Mr. Martinez had been watching our church for some time.”
Gebbie said her church offered to help pay for Martinez’s legal bills and to financially support his three children despite his actions toward church and its congregation.
“I believe him to be very dangerous,” Story County Attorney Jessica Reynolds said. “That’s why my office recommended the maximum sentence.”
The maximum sentence for the hate crime and arson charge was five years in prison, according to Iowa sentencing guidelines. The maximum for the other two charges is a year and a month. But because court records list him as a habitual offender, he was allowed to be sentenced to a longer prison term—totaling almost three times more than the guidelines recommended.
“The defendant stated that there was nothing the judge could do to stop him from continuing this behavior and that he would continue to do this no matter what,” Reynolds said.
Gebbie wanted the sentence to send “a strong and clear message.”
“We do not tolerate hatred on the basis of biology,” she said.