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Second man in charged in racially-motivated attack pleads guilty

The second man accused in a July attack on an African-American man has pleaded guilty to being an accomplice in the first racially-motivated hate crime prosecuted in Merrimack County.

Joshua Peno, 21, of Nottingham, agreed to a sentence of between 1 and 4 years in the state prison, with credit for the 199 days he was in jail awaiting trial.

“In a crime of violence that is racially motivated, it is important for the issue of general deterrence that the public is made aware that kind of crime is going to receive a prison sentence,” Assistant Merrimack County Attorney Wayne Coull said yesterday.

Peno’s trial was due to begin next month, but he entered his plea on Thursday. Last month, a jury found 21-year-old Donald Freese of Concord guilty of being an accomplice to simple assault and criminal threatening in the same case.

The pair was originally indicted in September and charged with assaulting 23-year-old Alhaji Kargbo in July.

During Freese’s trial, Kargbo said someone in a car driven by Freese leaned out the window as it drove by him on Route 3A, and yelled a racial slur at him.

When he caught up with the car at a red light, Peno and Freese got out, called Kargbo a “f------ n-----” repeatedly, punched him and kicked him when he fell to the ground.

After a short break in the fighting, Freese was accused of brandishing a knife and slashing it at Kargbo, who the witnesses said escaped being cut only by dodging the blade.

Freese faces up to 12 years in state prison and will likely be sentenced within the next month, Coull said.

While the county attorney has prosecuted cases involving persecution for sexual orientation as hate crimes, this was the first case in which the office noted the victim’s race as a motivating factor, County Attorney Scott Murray said last month.

Acknowledging that hate crimes are hard to prove, Murray said after receiving the verdict against Freese that the witness testimony coupled with the “ferocity” of the assault in this case brought the race element clearly to the forefront.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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