Former Concord man pleads guilty in racist graffiti case, receives one-year jail sentence

Last modified: 9/3/2015 6:58:46 PM
The messages were erased years ago, their bitter words scraped off, painted over, the clapboard sidings on which they were scrawled restored.

But for the families inside, they lingered as terrifying reminders of the lives they once fled thousands of miles away, in Rwanda, Somalia, the Congo.

“Your subhuman culture,” opened one. “You are not welcome here,” read another. “You bring death wherever your cursed people go.”

It took Concord police nearly two years to track down the author, and another two for prosecutors to bring him to justice. But on Wednesday, Raymond Stevens, 44, a tattoo artist and former resident of the city’s South End, admitted that he was indeed behind it all.

With his wife watching tearfully from the courtroom gallery, Stevens pleaded guilty to criminal mischief, a felony enhanced as a hate crime, and was sentenced to one year in the county jail.

“I was angry at an imperfect world and allowed it to fester inside me,” Stevens explained, reading from a statement before the sentence was handed down. “No matter what the outcome of this incident, I am eternally grateful for the difficult lesson I come away with, and I am also deeply remorseful for the pain I have caused those good families.”

None of the families affected were present to hear his remarks. Since the crimes occurred, in September 2011 and August 2012, one has moved to Texas, and another to Manchester, according to a friend. Some tenants have stayed. The county attorney’s office said it had reached out to as many victims as possible. Two replied in writing.

“Mr. Steven’s hate message altered and changed our lives completely,” wrote Manasse Ngendahayo, who relocated with his family in the wake of the vandalism. He said they have struggled financially ever since. “In Africa,” Ngendahayo wrote, “these messages of hate and evil were written in the house of people as threats, and were usually carried out.”

The crimes shook to the core a city that has long-prided itself as a destination for those escaping violence and persecution. Many spoke out against the acts, insisting they were not representative of the community at large, which remains predominantly white.

But as the months continued, it seemed increasingly unlikely that the perpetrator would be found. Police eventually closed the case, then reopened it in 2012, with little to go on. As a last resort, Detective Wade Brown began flipping through old handgun applications and came across one from Stevens. The “b”s matched those scrawled on the homes.

Investigators later recovered physical evidence linking him to the crime, and an ex-girlfriend told them he used to brag about spray-painting swastikas and racist diatribes on homes and a synagogue at night. She claimed he had once thrown bricks through an immigrant’s storefront near his tattoo parlor in Nashua, according to an affidavit.

Stevens was a vocal white supremacist at the time, often lashing out at minorities on his Facebook page and internet forums, where he went by the name “RayPissed.”

He was arrested in October 2013 and immediately released on bail. The next month, he walked into a Hopkinton cemetery and shot himself in the head. He survived and had been on home confinement until Wednesday.

The case lingered for months, as Stevens’s public defender argued competency and the state dealt with a series of untimely personnel changes. This summer, however, he was finally deemed fit to stand trial.

Stevens’s lawyer, Melinda Siranian, had requested a suspended jail sentence and probation for two years. She argued that Stevens had no criminal record, has behaved in the months since his injury, and had never acted violently toward the families.

“The writing was hateful, but it was not threatening,” she said. “It was not direct threats to anyone in those houses.” She added that Stevens has suffered from depression for years and was finally getting psychiatric help.

Stevens, who suffers from twitches and slowed speech as a result of the head injury, called the crimes “uncharacteristic of me.”

But Judge Philip Mangones noted the severity of the offense, punishable under the state’s hate crime statute by up to 30 years in prison. It went beyond a simple act of vandalism, a word or two written drunkenly in the night, he said.

“It was something more than that,” Mangones said, “and that is of particular concern to the court.”

In addition to incarceration, Stevens was ordered to pay a yet-undetermined amount of restitution to Ngendahayo, as well as $814 to Anne Renner, who owns two of the homes targeted on Perley and Downing streets.

Renner addressed the court on behalf of the remaining tenants, who she said were “too afraid to come here.”

“I think it’s so important that we speak up loudly about the effects of this type of behavior,” she said. “It doesn’t just affect the families, the victims of the violence. It affects everyone who comes in contact with it. It affects the very fabric of our town, our society . . . it shreds our sense of security.”

Stevens is the third person convicted in Merrimack County of a racial hate crime in recent years, a point that County Attorney Scott Murray was quick to underline after the hearing.

“The state is becoming more diverse,” he said. “You have more people here from a variety of backgrounds, and the message needs to get out there that if you are going to victimize people based on where they come from – their race, their ethnicity – that you’re going to be severely punished.”

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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