Eric Hunt, the 24-year-old man convicted of accosting Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel in a San Francisco hotel room in 2007, was to be released from jail Monday, minutes after renouncing his “racist rant” and apologizing for the “mental breakdown” that he said led to the attack.
The New Jersey man, who looked downtrodden in court Monday, was sentenced to two years in state prison but was expected to be released Monday night after serving 18 months in county jail and receiving credit for good behavior. He will be flown to New Jersey after his release to live with his stepfather and spend up to four years on parole.
“I do not deny the Holocaust,” Hunt told the court, reading quickly from a prepared statement. He also addressed Wiesel in the letter, saying: “I am not a Nazi, racist, white supremacist, or anti-semite [sic]. I have tremendous remorse for scaring you.”
As first reported in The Examiner, Hunt approached Wiesel on Feb. 1, 2007, inside an elevator at the Argent Hotel, where Wiesel had just participated in a peace conference panel on the use of force. Hunt would later post an account of the attack on a blog.
Assistant District Attorney Alan Kennedy argued for the maximum sentence of three years, calling Hunt’s Internet diatribe “boastful, hateful, intolerant and, in an ultimate understatement, misinformed.”
Hunt’s attorney, John Runfola, said he was pleased with the sentence of two years. He accused the District Attorney’s Office of dragging out a case that could have been settled months before with the same result.
The sentence was handed down by Judge Robert Dondero after a three-week jury trial in San Francisco Superior Court. The jury found Hunt guilty of false imprisonment with a hate-crime allegation, misdemeanor battery and misdemeanor elder abuse. It acquitted him on a felony charge of kidnapping, but the hate-crime allegation upgraded the false-imprisonment misdemeanor to a felony.
The act of stalking Wiesel to a little-known college in Florida and then traveling cross-country to find him in San Francisco was a crime appropriately charged as a felony, Dondero said. The judge also acknowledged the role of Hunt’s severe bipolar disease in the attack.
“It is not appropriate for people who disagree with their views to seek them out,” he added. “That is a very, very dangerous and chilling feature of human activity.”
Hunt must pay a $1,000 fine and forfeit $3,100 found in his San Francisco hotel room to pay for court costs. He was also ordered to enroll in a behavioral-health program in New Jersey and stay 150 yards away from Wiesel.
“I had been sucked into anti-semitic [sic] conspiracy theories on the internet denying the occurance [sic] of the Holocaust.”
“I want to explain why I wrote that racist rant. I don’t believe any of that garbage now that I’m taking my medication.”
“I’m tremendously sorry my mental problems infringed on your life. I hope you can live a life free of being scared of strangers.”
– Eric Hunt, in an apology letter for his attack on Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel