One felony sticks in hotel attack

The New Jersey man who accosted Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel in a San Francisco hotel last year was found guilty of one felony and two misdemeanors on Monday, but jurors acquitted him on three other felony charges.

Eric Hunt, 24, was convicted of felony false imprisonment with special hate crime allegations, as well as misdemeanor battery and elder abuse.

However, Hunt was acquitted on charges of stalking, false imprisonment of an elder and attempted kidnapping — all felonies.

“Crimes motivated by hate are among the most reprehensible of offenses,” District Attorney Kamala Harris said in a statement on Monday. “This defendant has been made to answer for an unwarranted and biased attack on a man who dedicated his life to peace.”

The jury deliberated for nearly two full days on the charges.

Hunt originally pleaded not guilty to all the charges by reason of insanity, but withdrew that plea Monday, because it would require a second trial to determine his sanity at the time of incident.

Sentencing for the charges will take place on Aug. 18. Both misdemeanor charges carry maximum sentences of six months in county jail, while the false imprisonment with the hate crime allegation has a maximum sentence of three years in state prison, according to the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.

As first reported in The Examiner, Hunt approached Wiesel on Feb. 1, 2007, inside an elevator at the Argent Hotel, where Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor who penned his experiences in his memoir, “Night,” had just participated in a panel during a peace conference that discussed the use of force.

According to testimony by Wiesel, Hunt repeatedly made a request for an interview in his hotel room. When Wiesel would not comply, Hunt grabbed him by the arm. After Wiesel began screaming for help, Hunt fled the scene.

Law enforcement officials arrested Hunt — who at the time was being held in a mental institution in New Jersey — after they discovered he posted an account of the Wiesel attack on several anti-Semitic blogs.

In the online posting, Hunt called Wiesel a “genocidal liar,” and said that “Night” was almost “entirely fictitious.”

The District Attorney's Office argued that the blog was evidence that Hunt systematically tracked down Wiesel as a hate crime target.

During the trial, John Runfola, Hunt’s lawyer, argued that his client was in the midst of a psychotic breakdown, triggered from an undiagnosed bipolar disorder.

Runfola did not respond to a call for comment Monday.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com 

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