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Murder victim’s family seeks justice; Arrest report points to possible hate crime

6PM: Hateful Killing
6PM: Hateful Killing
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A 22-year old man-- shot and killed defending friends outside a Lake Worth restaurant.

The arrest report, obtained by CBS12, indicates the men in the group may have been targeted for being gay.

“Now we don’t have him,” said Brenda Carballo, fighting tears.

Carballo’s cousin, Juan Cruz, was gunned down Saturday night, outside Las Flores Restaurant, across from city hall in downtown Lake Worth.

On Monday, Carballo and other family members attended the first court appearance of Nelson Hernandez-Mena, the man charged with first degree murder in Cruz’s death.

The judge ordered Hernandez-Mena held no bond.

“We just want him to have basically no life, and have no rights to anything, because he didn’t give Juan no rights,” said Carballo, after the hearing.

Carballo said her cousin, Cruz, was having dinner at the Salvadoran restaurant as family members often do.

The arrest report cites those in Cruz’s group telling investigators Hernandez looked at them with anger, after one of the men in Cruz’s group apparently got the number of one of Hernandez’s friends.

Outside, after the restaurant closed, one of Cruz’s friends quotes Hernandez saying, “If we were in my country I’d kill all of you like rats.” The arrest report says Hernandez was referring to the witness “and his homosexual friends.”

The report indicates another witness claims Hernandez said, “I hate you damned gays I’m going to kill you all here.”

Investigators write in the report, when Cruz defended his friends, Hernandez pulled out a gun and fired, killing Cruz, and hitting another of the men.

“For no reason,” exclaimed Carballo.

In his interview with detectives, the suspect, Hernandez, said he probably drank 15-20 beers that night. Hernandez claimed he was the one who was first attacked and threatened, and that he didn’t intend to hurt anyone.

In Florida, if someone is targeted because of who they are, prosecutors or a grand jury can add a hate crime enhancement, potentially increasing the offense level, and therefore, the sentence.

Gregg Lerman, a veteran criminal defense attorney based in West Palm Beach, said hate crime enhancements are rare, but acknowledged by the law.

“If you commit a crime, be it aggravated battery, arson, aggravated assault, sexual assault, any of those,” said Lerman, “and there’s a hate element to it, then that crime is going to be reclassified to be of a more serious type.”

In this case, Hernandez, charged with first degree murder, and attempted first degree murder, already faces life in prison.

If an enhancement were added in this case, it would likely be to the aggravated armed assault charge against Hernandez.

Prosecutors have not made a decision on a hate crime enhancement in this case. Because Hernandez is charged with first degree murder, his case will go before a grand jury.

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