News (USA)

Deranged neighbor threatened same-sex couple with a rifle. Now he’s facing prison time.

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A jury has found 53-year-old Maryland man Michael David Burns guilty of 10 charges — including three hate crimes — for threatening and harassing his neighbors, who are a same-sex couple.

Burns has been placed in home detention with a monitoring device while he awaits sentencing on April 4. His crimes are part of the state’s increasing number of hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people.

The same-sex couple living near Burns — whose names and genders weren’t publicly released — reported his trespassing and harassment directly to the state’s attorney’s office in 2022, The Washington Blade reported.

An investigation by Assistant State’s Attorney Carly Gibson found evidence that Burn continually trespassed onto the couple’s property while carrying a rifle, verbally harassed them with threats mentioning their sexual orientation, threw large rocks on their driveway to prevent them from accessing their home, and physically blocked the entrance to their property, the Frederick County State’s Attorney office said.

After a three-day trial, a jury found Burns guilty of 10 charges.

“Everyone deserves to feel safe in their communities, regardless of race, sexual orientation, faith, or other status,” Frederick County State’s Attorney Charlie Smith added in the statement. “When hateful words turn into hateful actions, the State’s Attorney’s Office will work diligently to protect the public and secure a just outcome. Hopefully, these convictions send a strong message that hate will not be tolerated in Frederick County.”

Hate crimes have been increasing in Maryland over the last three years. While the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recorded 40 hate crimes in the state in 2020, that number jumped to 89 in 2021, a 122% increase. In 2022, that number jumped to 221, a nearly 150% increase from the year before.

Hate crimes specifically targeting LGBTQ+ people have also increased from 2020 to 2022. In 2020, the DOJ reported seven hate crimes in Maryland based on sexual orientation and one based on gender identity. In 2021, those numbers jumped to 14 and four, respectively, a 100% and 400% increase. In 2022, those numbers increased to 45 and eight, respectively, an increase of 221% and 200% compared to the year before.

LGBTQ+ people are also more than twice as likely to be victims of gun violence than their cisgender and straight peers, according to the firearm reform group Sandy Hook Promise.

This chart contains a bar graph showing how often different types of hate crimes occur and a numeric chart showing the bases for differently motivated hate crimes.
U.S. Department of Justice. Two graphs showing Maryland’s hate crimes in 2022, and its year-over-year increases since 2000
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