WASHINGTON: A US Navy veteran who yelled "Get out of my country!" before killing Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla and injuring two others at a bar in Kansas City last year, has pleaded guilty to three federal hate-crime charges.
Adam Purinton, 53, who is already serving life in prison on a state murder charge, pleaded guilty in US District Court in Kansas City yesterday to three federal hate-crime charges alleging that he targeted the men because of their actual and perceived race, colour, religion and national origin. He had earlier in March pleaded guilty to first-degree murder of 32-year-old Kuchibhotla and two counts of attempted first-degree murder in state court in the shootings of the Indian tech worker's friend Madasani and a bystander. The US Attorney's Office in Kansas had filed hate crime charges against Purinton last June.
Purinton, a white man, faced a possible death sentence for the federal charges. Under the plea, though, Purinton will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on each of the three counts, with the sentences to run consecutively to each other and to the life term ordered earlier this month in Johnson County, Kansas.
"Hate crimes are acts of evil, and the Department of Justice has prioritized their zealous prosecution," said Acting Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio yesterday.
In this case, Purinton embarked on a murderous rampage with clear premeditation to kill on the basis of race, colour, religion, and national origin, he said.
"It was a hate crime, and he is being brought to justice. While we cannot ameliorate the irreparable harm to the victims and their families, we hope that securing this guilty plea brings them some measure of closure. And this prosecution sends a message across the nation: hate crimes will not be tolerated," Panuccio said.
Kuchibhotla's widow, Sunayana Dumala, did not attend the court hearing, but later released a statement thanking federal prosecutors and the FBI.
"Today's change in the federal hate crime case against the murderer of my husband Srinu is a significant step to putting an end to hate crimes committed against people of colour and from different cultures," she said.
"The actions of the court send a strong message that hate is never acceptable."
Several weeks before the shooting, Kuchibhotla along with his fellow engineer at Garmin, Madasani was at Austins when Purinton saw them and made a comment to another patron.
"Did you see the terrorists on the patio?" Purinton asked.
The patron told him they were from India and they were not terrorists.
On February 22, 2017, the two friends were once again having an after-work drink at the bar when Purinton approached and confronted them.
He demanded to know where they were from, then poked Kuchibhotla in the chest, and called him a terrorist.
"Get out of my country," he yelled.
Bar patrons, including Ian Grillot, asked Purinton to leave and he was escorted from the business by employees. Purinton then went home, changed clothes and got his 9mm semi-automatic handgun.
He returned to the bar, covered his face with a scarf to hide his identity and went inside. He then fired eight shots at the two Indian men. Kuchibhotla was hit by at least four bullets. Madasani was shot in the leg.
As he fled from the shooting, Grillot ran after him. Purinton turned and shot him.
Later, Purinton called a friend and and said he was on the run from police because he had shot "two Iranians."
Earlier this month, the Johnson County judge had sentenced Purinton to nearly 78 years in prison as part of a plea agreement reached in March.