Suspected White Supremacist Gets 11 Years in Partial Blinding: Judge: Plea Deal Too Lax in Unprovoked Attack on Black Man
By Kim Smith
A Tucson man suspected of being a white supremacist was sentenced to 11 years in prison Thursday for partially blinding a black man in town on a business trip.
Pima County Superior Court Judge Howard Hantman gave Blake Joseph Edwards the maximum he could under the terms of a plea agreement but repeatedly made it clear he wasn't happy about how lenient the sentence was.
Reginald Sampson was in town Feb. 22, 2006, to sell construction equipment when he and some co-workers went to Las Cazuelitas restaurant inside the Rodeway Inn at West Grant Road and Interstate 10, according to court documents.
Witnesses heard Edwards, 32, making racial slurs about "Mexicans" and black people but ignored him.
Moments later, Edwards hit Sampson, a North Carolina resident, in the face with a beer mug while Sampson was picking out songs on a jukebox, court documents state.
When witnesses grabbed Edwards, Edwards demanded to be let go so he could "stomp the (expletive)," according to court documents.
Edwards fled but was arrested at a nearby gas station bleeding from wounds caused by the shattered beer mug.
Court documents indicate police noticed Edwards had the word "pecker" tattooed on one knee and the word "wood" on the other knee. "Peckerwoods" are known to be a faction of white supremacist groups.
The cornea in Sampson's left eye was lacerated during the incident, blinding him in that eye, court documents state. The attack also caused cataracts in both eyes, neck and spinal injuries and nerve damage to his face.
Sampson has had several surgeries and expects to have more, court documents state.
Edwards pleaded guilty to aggravated assault last month so prosecutors would dismiss three other aggravated-assault charges that were pending against him -- one involving the Sampson case and two involving corrections officers at the Pima County jail.
The plea agreement gave Hantman the option of giving Edwards as little as 3.5 years or as much as 11 years in prison.
He was originally supposed to be sentenced Tuesday, but Hantman postponed the sentencing after learning more details about the case and Edwards' prior criminal history.
Court documents show Edwards is an alcoholic with past convictions in Maricopa County for sexual abuse, aggravated assault, resisting arrest, burglary and theft.
"I'm not sure 11 years is commensurate with who he is," Hantman said. "I think he deserves the most the state can give him, the most they can prove."
Every incident Edwards has been involved in has been unprovoked, Hantman said.
"He just goes off on people," Hantman said at one point.
"It's incomprehensible this (plea agreement) was ever offered," Hantman said.
The plea agreement was reached because of witness issues and the quality of the surveillance video, said Deputy Pima County Attorney Teresa Godoy.
Sampson also wasn't sure he wanted to go through the trauma of a trial, Godoy said.
Hantman opted not to accept the plea agreement immediately and gave Sampson until Thursday to make sure he didn't want to go to trial.
After another long discussion Thursday, Sampson said that regardless of the time Edwards is given, he will never be the same. "I'm just ready to put this all behind me," Sampson said.
In addition to sending Edwards to prison, Hantman ordered him to pay $75,000 in restitution with the possibility of more restitution.
When given the chance to speak, Edwards started to apologize but was cut off by Hantman.
"It's too late for that sir," Hantman said. "His life is over as he knew it and you're the cause."
A civil lawsuit filed by Sampson against Edwards and the Rodeway Inn is pending.