Hearing postponed to decide whether man convicted in 'wrong neighborhood' beating meets habitual offender standard

Hearing postponed to decide whether man convicted in 'wrong neighborhood' beating meets habitual offender standard

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The man convicted of battery in what's being called the "wrong neighborhood" was scheduled to finally learn his fate Friday, but the sentencing hearing was postponed.

Donald Dickerson, 42, of Baton Rouge, was convicted of second-degree battery last summer. He could face life in prison for the brutal beating outside of a gas station. Officials said the hearing was delayed because Dickerson's attorney was stuck in New Orleans. A new sentencing date was not set.

Dickerson was convicted in June of beating David Ray at a Chevron gas station near Plank and Scenic Highway on May 12, 2013. Ray's wife and daughter were also attacked. Some believe the attack was racially motivated.

Dickerson faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison because the East Baton Rouge district attorney plans to use Louisiana's habitual offender law against him. The motion is expected to be filed the week of January 25. Dickerson has previously been convicted of armed robbery, purse snatching and a sex crime involving a juvenile.

He was originally scheduled to be sentenced in early December, but there was a delay due to prosecutors waiting on documents from the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

District Judge Lou Daniel will ultimately decide if Dickerson is considered a habitual offender under the law and then must decide on the appropriate sentence, which could include life behind bars. Dickerson is currently in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison and has been since May 2013.

Police arrested Dickerson and ticketed two others. They are all accused of punching the family. The Chevron gas station where the attack happened is off I-110 near Memorial Stadium. The family stopped there to get gas a Sunday night around 10.

"Upon our arrival, we located three victims who were attacked in the parking lot," Cpl. Tommy Stubbs, spokesman for the Baton Rouge Police Department, said at the time.

The owners of the gas station did not want to comment on camera, but said there's a wide variety of customers in and out of the store in the daytime. At night, though, it's not the safest of places, especially with the area having some of the highest crime in the city.

"It was a small scene, but it got to be a big scene after the fight broke out and it was a big scene when the police came," said Keisha Henderson, a witness.

Stubbs said a man wearing a pink shirt was in line trying to pay for gas when Dickerson started making fun of him, leading to an argument.

"The defendant (Dickerson) approached the white male victim," the police report stated.

It went on to read, "the defendant told him he was in the wrong neighborhood and he was not going to make it out." The victim said that's when he "was punched and knocked to the ground."

At this time, his wife got out of the car and ran to help her husband. The victim said, "he continued to struggle with the defendant and was eventually knocked unconscious, which later he awoke in the hospital."

His wife told police, "after running to help her husband, she remembers falling to the ground and (being) knocked unconscious."

According to a close family friend, that's when the couple's teenage daughter got out of the car to check on her parents and, "observed a female punch her mother in the face, when her mother then fell to the concrete, hitting her head on the surface."

The daughter was also punched in the face.

"There were only three suspects but there were multiple people in the parking lot," said Stubbs.

Of those three, Dickerson was arrested and charged with second-degree battery. The other two suspects, Devin Bessye and Ashley Simmons were released on site after police wrote them each a summons for simple battery. When police were questioned about why all three defendants were not charged with felony second-degree battery, Stubbs responded, "Because you have to have disfigurement for a second-degree battery charge, and only one victim had disfigurement and he was attacked by the one suspect that we booked."

However, Louisiana law defines second-degree battery as "bodily injury which involves unconsciousness, extreme physical pain or protracted and obvious disfigurement."

The victim suffered "a broken eye socket, broken nose, and several lacerations to the face," and his wife was knocked unconscious.

"I feel that's racist," said Henderson.

As to why officers only charged one suspect with second-degree battery, police said under former Police Chief Dewayne White, officers were told to take all offenders to prison. Towards the end of his term, the policy changed and officers were told to use discretion. That was the policy in place at the time of the attack.

District Attorney Hillar Moore said his office chose not pursue hate crime charges for the attack, but instead, went after defendant Dickerson using Louisiana's habitual offender section of the law because if convicted of a hate crime, Dickerson would only face the possibility of an extra five years added to his sentence.

Moore said he prefers trying Dickerson as a habitual offender because if convicted, Dickerson would automatically face life in prison without the possibility of probation or parole.

Moore added the victims were happy with his decision.

Copyright 2016 WAFB. All rights reserved.