A man who was assaulted in what prosecutors say was a racially motivated hate crime said he feared for his life when two men he didn’t know confronted him outside a Biddeford convenience store in April 2018.

“I took off running, trying to get back to my kids,” said Daimon McCollum, describing the moments after he was punched so hard that his jaw was fractured.

Maurice Diggins, left, and Dusty Leo York County Jail photos

If he hadn’t run, McCollum said, “I probably would have lost my life that night.”

McCollum testified Friday in U.S. District Court in Portland, where Maurice Diggins faces two counts of committing hate crimes and another count of conspiracy to commit hate crimes for allegedly assaulting McCollum and another man.

Federal prosecutions for hate crimes are rare in Maine, but Diggins and his nephew, Dusty Leo, were charged after they allegedly committed two race-based assaults in the same night in Portland and Biddeford nearly two years ago. The two victims are black, while the two men charged with the attacks are white.

Diggins and Leo are accused of shouting racial epithets during the unprovoked assaults.

In addition to the federal hate crime charges, Diggins and Leo could face state assault charges.

McCollum’s testimony was a key part of the opening day of Diggins’ trial Friday. Another significant moment came when an expert from the Anti-Defamation League testified that some of Diggins’ tattoos – Nazi swastikas, SS “lightning bolts” and racist slogans – led him to conclude that Diggins is a white supremacist. The defense attorneys had argued before the trial to have the tattoo evidence suppressed.

Leo has pleaded guilty to two of the federal counts and will be sentenced at a later date. The hate crime charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years each and conspiracy has a maximum sentence of five years.

McCollum testified that he and his wife had been out celebrating the night of April 14, 2018, after learning the oldest of their three children had earned a college scholarship. McCollum headed to the 7-Eleven a couple of blocks from his home around 2 a.m. to get snacks, he said.

A surveillance video played by prosecutors shows McCollum walking across an empty parking lot when a pickup truck enters the lot and pulls up alongside the store’s front door. McCollum stops walking in the video and that’s when, he said, the driver yelled a racial slur and asked, “Who you eyeballing?”

McCollum said the driver, who prosecutors say was Diggins, got out of the pickup and circled him, eventually standing between McCollum and the door. The video shows that another man – prosecutors say Leo – then got out of the pickup, came up behind McCollum and hit him on the face. McCollum fell to the ground and then ran from the parking lot. The man who struck him followed to the edge of the lot and then the two men got back in the truck and drove off in the same direction as McCollum had run.

McCollum said he avoided them by running down alleys, through backyards and over fences until he got home.

His wife later took him to a local emergency room and he was transferred to Maine Medical Center, where he had emergency surgery on his jaw later that day. The surgeon who performed the operation said McCollum’s jaw had to be wired shut for a month.

The same doctor also operated that same day on another man, identified in court records only as A.N. Prosecutors say he was assaulted by Diggins and Leo earlier that night in Portland. Prosecutors say the attackers shouted racist slurs in that assault and also left that victim, a Sudanese immigrant, with a broken jaw.

Diggins’ lawyer, federal defender David Beneman, tried to poke holes in McCollum’s testimony, saying he had told Biddeford police that three men had attacked him and that the pickup truck was silver, then gold – the one owned by Leo is black. Beneman also pointed out that McCollum told police he was hit twice in the parking lot, which doesn’t appear to be the case in the surveillance video.

Prosecutors said they had tried to watch the video with McCollum repeatedly, but he always asked them to stop before they got all the way through.

“It walks me down memory lane of that night and it’s too hard,” said McCollum, who also told the court that he has since moved from Biddeford because he no longer feels safe in the community.

Diggins’ attorney also showed the jury another video that shows an assault of a victim he said was white, an apparent attempt to undermine the hate crime charge. A key part of the hate crime law says prosecutors need to prove racial animus was an underlying element of the crime.

The video, apparently shot by a bystander in a car, shows a confrontation earlier in the evening outside a Commercial Street bar. In it, a man, apparently Leo, hits another man from behind. The victim, Beneman said, was white.

The federal jury also heard Friday from Chris Magyarics, the Anti-Defamation League expert on white supremacy, who said someone who tattoos themselves with racist symbols is demonstrating their devotion to the cause by permanently marking their body.

Diggins, he said, has four Nazi swastikas tattooed on his arm, along with two SS “lightning bolt” logos and an outline of a bottle of “Absolut Pride” vodka. Inside the outline of the bottle is the slogan, “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

Magyarics said the slogan has been adopted by white supremacists and is often just referred to as “the 14 words.” Diggins also has a WPWW tattoo, which Magyarics said stands for White Pride World Wide and is one of the most popular symbols of the white supremacist movement.

Asked his opinion of someone with the tattoos that Diggins has, Magyrics said he would conclude “that they are a white supremacist.”

Beneman, the defense attorney, pointed out that his client’s tattoos also include one referencing his wife and another with his daughter’s birth date, but Magyarics was unswayed.

Beneman had sought to bar testimony about the tattoos, arguing that they were covered up during the alleged assaults. But a federal judge ruled that the jury could hear the testimony.

The start of the trial was delayed this week when the judge who made that ruling and was originally assigned to the case, Jon D. Levy, became ill. Nancy Torreson took over and said she expects the trial will run another three or four days.

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