A rare federal hate crimes trial in Maine is close to wrapping up, but not before a racist quote from former Gov. Paul LePage entered the record.

Maurice Diggins is charged with two counts of hate crimes and one count of conspiracy in connection with what prosecutors describe as racially motivated attacks on black men in Portland and Biddeford in 2018. His nephew, Dusty Leo, faced similar charges, but late last month pleaded guilty to a count of conspiracy and one count of a hate crime. He has not yet been sentenced.

During testimony Monday, Diggins was heard in a tape-recorded conversation telling his wife, Tessa Dennison, that he believed he would be acquitted. Diggins, who was in jail at the time, suggested that many Mainers share the racial views of LePage and that would protect him from being found guilty of a hate crime.

“Listen to Gov. LePage,” Diggins said, referring to comments the governor made in early 2016 about drug dealers from Connecticut and New York coming to Maine sell drugs and impregnate “white girls.”

“They’re coming up here, getting our women pregnant and selling our kids drugs,” is how Diggins put it to his wife. “Gov. LePage said that … he’s the racist, not me.”

Dennison had told prosecutors she didn’t remember the conversation, which led to the tape being played in court for the jury.

LePage famously said in 2016 that out-of-state drug dealers with nicknames like “D-Money,” “Smoothie” and “Shifty” were coming to Maine and that, “half the time, they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave.”

The comments drew national attention and condemnation. LePage said he misspoke by saying white women when he meant to say Maine women, and he blamed the media for jumping on a slip of the tongue.

He also defended himself against an outpouring of criticism by saying that 90-plus percent of those arrested for drug trafficking were black or hispanic and that he had a binder on arrests that supported the claim. The binder, revealed through public records requests, directly contradicted LePage’s claims.

LePage could not be reached directly Monday but provided a written statement through political consultant Brent Littlefield.

“It is shameful anyone would try to use my name in relation to these incidents,” LePage’s statement said. “I condemn this behavior in the strongest possible terms. As a victim of violence in my youth, I find this vile justification of these hate crimes repugnant.”

The hate crimes trial is coming to a close quicker than expected. It began Friday and closing arguments are scheduled for Tuesday morning. Federal District Judge Nancy Torreson had initially told jurors to expect the trial to run four or five days.

The jury consists of 10 women and three men, all of whom are white.

Diggins formally declined to testify Monday afternoon.

Earlier Monday, one of the victims of the alleged assaults, a 35-year-old refugee from Sudan, told the court that the attack on him came out of the blue late April 14, 2018.

Akok Nyang said he had spent an evening with friends at the Silver House Tavern and was smoking a cigarette outside when two men approached him. He said the larger of the two men – apparently Diggins – punched him and Nyang ran, chased by the two shouting “come here” and a racial slur.

Nyang was asked if he knew what the racial slur meant. He replied, through an interpreter, that there was no similar word in his native Sudan, but he had been in the U.S. long enough to understand its meaning.

Prosecutors allege that the attack on Nyang and a similar one on a black man outside a convenience store in Biddeford later that same night were both racially motivated.

The victims, prosecutor Sheila W. Sawyer said, had done “nothing except stand there and be black.”

Diggins’s lawyer, federal defender David Beneman, countered that Nyang didn’t mention the racial slur in an initial conversation with FBI agents.

Beneman also called several members of the University of Southern Maine hockey team in an attempt to show the attacks weren’t racially motivated.

Diggins and Leo had apparently gotten into a scuffle with a hockey player earlier that Saturday evening outside the Oasis, an Old Port nightclub.

Most of the hockey players were white, but prosecutors pointed out that one player is biracial, buttressing their argument that Diggins and Leo targeted minorities.

Friday, prosecutors focused on Diggin’s tattoos, which an expert said included many white supremacist symbols and slogans.

The symbols would indicate the bearer is a white supremacist, the expert said.

Leo and Diggins still face assault charges in state court. If convicted in federal court, Diggins faces up to five years on the conspiracy count and 10 years on each of the hate crime counts.

 

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