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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, January 23, 2018 1:00 am

30-day sentence for teen in attack

Racial overtones in creek beating

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

Jason Gardner still has nightmares about the attack last year that left him injured, teetering on the brink of being unconscious.

Gardner, 16, who is black, was beaten in early June and left near a creek in New Haven. Lee Leazier II, 16, who is white, was charged in the attack when the boys were both 15 years old. Gardner and his family have maintained the attack was racially motivated.

A magistrate in December found Leazier guilty as a juvenile of battery resulting in serious bodily injury. Allen Superior Court Judge Daniel Heath sentenced him Monday to 30 days' detention. Probation will follow the sentence.

“To be honest, a part of me still is back in that creek,” Gardner said to Leazier inside a courtroom at the Allen County Juvenile Center. “I'll never forget.”

The attack happened June 5 at Cedarwood Trails Mobile Home Park on Moeller Road. Gardner was found near the creek, which runs behind the trailer park.

He told The Journal Gazette days after the attack he was lured to the creek by a white teen who told him his girlfriend was there and about to hurt herself. He was beaten when they got there.

Witnesses testified during a bench trial last month that Leazier sent social media messages prior to the attack, threatening violence. Isolina Ball, who is married to Gardner's mother, La'Kysha Gardner, and investigators testified he couldn't speak when he was found and had wounds to his hands and a bruised face.

Photos taken after the beating also show scratches on his chest.

Defense attorney Tom Allen asked the judge Monday to sentence his client only to probation, arguing the boy is doing well in school and has obeyed the rules of his release.

Heath sided instead with Prosecutor Tracy Smith, who said racial slurs were uttered during the attack and argued the racial motivation for the attack was an aggravating factor.

“These rise to another level,” Smith said. “They cross that line.”

Because of his age at the time of the crime, Leazier could have been sentenced to a maximum of 90 days detention, court officials said.

Gardner and his mother read statements as Leazier sat just a few feet away, looking at the floor of the courtroom. He did not speak or show any emotion after the sentence was read or when he was led away in handcuffs.

“Although the pain of being beaten and hurt so badly for no reason except being African American has damaged my son, I still teach him to forgive and pray for others,” La'Kysha Gardner said. “Never allow hate in your heart.”

After the sentencing, Lee Leazier Sr. said prosecutors did not prove his son attacked Jason Gardner.

The younger Leazier's stepmother, Heather Leazier, accused prosecutors and the judge of not considering evidence including photos and testimony from her family that might have resulted in an acquittal. She also denied her stepson committed the crime, saying he was at home with her at the time the attack happened.

“They left out half the evidence in the adjudication,” Heather Leazier said. “My son was home at the time (of the attack).”

Indiana is one of a handful of states without a hate crimes law on the books, though state lawmakers are considering creating one. Jason Gardner and his family will testify in favor of a bill being considered in Indianapolis today.

He also spoke during a rally in October in Fort Wayne to push for hate crimes legislation.

Asked how he felt after Leazier was sentenced, Jason Gardner said he wasn't sure.

“I'm happy he got 30 days,” he said. “I feel like I can be safe for a little bit.”

mleblanc@jg.net