The lawyer for an alleged white supremacist gang member claims his client murdered a 19-year-old Black man because of a head injury — not his bigoted, racist beliefs.
Oregon man Russell Courtier, 40, is facing hate crime charges after police say he mowed down Larnell Bruce Jr. with his girlfriend’s Jeep after a heated confrontation at a 7-Eleven convenience store back in August 2016. Courtier’s girlfriend, Colleen Hunt, could be heard egging her man on, shouting “Get him, baby!” witnesses said, and also faces charges in the young man’s slaying.
In court last week, attorney Kevin Sali argued that scientists’ testimonies will prove that an alleged head injury Courtier sustained during a fight with Bruce “prompted an unusual reaction to that threat” and resulted in his client killing the young man with is car, The Oregonian reported.
“Russell Courtier never wanted any of this to happen,” Sali told jurors, adding: “It’s not what anybody would call a fight. Mr. Courtier is alone, unarmed. … Mr. Courtier is struck over and over, including in the head and the face.”
Authorities say the deadly encounter unfolded when Courtier and the teen exchanged words outside the popular convenience store in the Portland suburb of Gresham. Their words soon turned to blows, Courtier slammed Bruce’s head against the store’s front window, cracking it. Unfazed, the teenager retaliated and allegedly brandished a machete, prompting Courtier and Hunt to retreat back to her red Jeep Wrangler.
The fight didn’t end there, however.
The Portland Mercury newspaper reported at the time that the couple chased Bruce around the parking lot with their vehicle, barely missing him as he zigzagged onto the sidewalk and fled into the street. Prosecutors said Courtier drove across lanes of oncoming traffic in hot pursuit of the teen before “intentionally striking him with the front of the vehicle.”
The police initially declined to charge the couple with a hate crime, due to lack of evidence. However, prosecutors pointed to an “EK” tattoo on Courtier’s forearm linking him to white supremacist prison gang European Kindred. The ex-con also reportedly donned an “EK” hat at the time of the deadly attack, leading prosecutors to believe he targeted Bruce because of his race.
In court, prosecutor David Hannon argued that Courtier’s refusal to wait for police to de-escalate the situation proved his intent to “kill Mr. Bruce.”
“He would not let a sidewalk deter him,” Hannon added. “And he would not let a young man running away in fear for his life deter him.”
Sali insisted Courtier and Hunt had feared for their safety after Bruce brandished a machete. However, surveillance video doesn’t show the teen using the weapon.
It’s still unclear what the two men were fighting about.
“What this case is going to turn on is what was in Mr. Courtier’s mind?” Sali said. “How calmly and rationally was he able to make decisions and understand everything going around him in that extremely threatening, traumatic situation?”
Courtier is on trial for murder, hit-and-run driving, and intimidation, which is the hate crime charge. Hunt, 37, faces charges for the same crimes, as eyewitnesses said they heard her encouraging Courtier to hurt Bruce and at one point shouted, “Run him over!”
If found guilty, Courtier and Hunt could each face life in prison with the possibility of release after 25 years. Hannon said he wants to increase Courtier’s his prison term by seeking “dangerous offender” and “upward departure” sentences, should the jury find him guilty.