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Attorney: Student Accused of Ethnic Intimidation Unaware of Swastika Meaning

by on January 14, 2014 7:00 AM

The defense attorney for a Penn State student accused of ethnic intimidation targeting a Jewish fraternity says his client did not know the meaning behind swastikas and other anti-Semitic language connected to the crime.

Matt McClenahen, defense attorney for Hayden Grom, says when the vandalism occurred his client was oblivious to the history of the Nazis and National Socialism like many other young people in the United States.

"He's completely ignorant of 20th Century history. His actions were born out of complete ignorance of what he was doing," says McClenahen. "A lot of American kids, quite frankly, are clueless about history and he's in that category."

In December, State College police charged Grom, 19, of New Fairfield, Conn., and Eric Hyland, 20, of Export, with ethnic intimidation, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct.

The charges stem from a November incident in which the men allegedly spray-painted 12 vehicles, a dumpster and a garage near Beta Sigma Beta Fraternity on Berry Alley. The graffiti included sexual images and words, swastikas, anti-Semitic language, the initials "K.K.K." and random scribbling, according to police.

The evidence against Hyland and Grom came from surveillance footage of the crime, as well as information given to police by a tipster who identified Hyland and Grom as the people who committed the vandalism, police say.

McClenahen says his client copied his co-defendant and spray-painted one swastika.

"He's very remorseful. He's one of the most remorseful clients I've ever had," says McClenahen.

McClenahen says he has suggested his client watch films and read books related to the history of Nazis and National Socialism.

"I think it's important for his healing process," McClenahen says.

Both defendants have waived their right to a preliminary hearing. Right now, McClenahen says it is unclear what will happen with his client's case. A pre-trial hearing is slated for March 20.

"It's too early to tell. It's a unique case so it's hard to predict what will happen," says McClenahen.

Both defendants were suspended from Penn State until the fall semester, says McClenahen. Penn State Spokeswoman Lisa Powers says their case is before the Office of Student Conduct and has not yet been finalized. The university previously said the defendants were expelled from their fraternity, Acacia.

It is unclear whether the defendants will have an opportunity to participate in the county's alternative sentencing program, Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD).

ARD is a pre-trial intervention program operated out of the district attorney's office. It is intended to help eliminate court costs for non-violent offenders. Defendants in ARD can avoid jail time and have their records cleared if they meet requirements set by a judge.

Mark Bolkovac, defense attorney for Hyland, did not return a request Monday for comment.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government. jenn.miller@statecollege.com
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