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Was gas station triple shooting a hate crime?

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) -- Some people in our community and beyond are calling last week's triple shooting a hate crime.

But Indiana does not have a true hate crime law.

It's a case that's captured the community's attention -- three young Black men gunned down last week at a gas station at East State and Hobson.

Hours later, police arrested 32-year-old Joseph Bossard, saying security video showed him having an argument with the three, then leaving, and coming back two minutes later to repeatedly fire into their car.

19-year-olds Andy Retic and Josh Cooper died, 20-year-old Jaylin Rice remains hospitalized after three surgeries and losing a kidney.

The president of the local NAACP says if people believe the shooting was a hate crime, they need to take action instead of just talking about it.

However, a community leader says just because a white man allegedly gunned down three Black men doesn't necessarily make it a hate crime.

"I know everyone's thinking this is a hate crime, but in Indiana we failed to have a hate crime bill," Larry Gist said.

As president of the Fort Wayne NAACP, Gist helped lobby the state legislature a few years ago to try to pass hate crime legislation.

While someone can be prosecuted at the federal level for a hate crime, Indiana remains one of five states not to have a true hate crime law.

However, the prosecutor can argue at a defendant's sentencing that the crime was committed because of a specific motivation, and that would be an aggravating factor in the case.

Allen County's chief public defender says in his 22 years of criminal defense work, he's never seen a case where that's been a factor.

But he says it could certainly happen.

"If the prosecutor believes that the motive for the crime or the crime was committed based on a particular race, religion, disability, whatever it may be, then if they can convince the judge that that's why the crime was committed then the judge has every right to use that as an aggravating factor," William Lebrato said.

Gist says the gas station case is still in the early stages.

"Anyone that knows the NAACP, we let them do their initial investigation, and then if the final result is not to everyone's, our satisfaction, then we move to the next level," he said.

He says, though, that nothing's been uncovered yet to show race was a motive.

"Speaking with the prosecutor and chief of police, there's no evidence that this is hate crime-related. He didn't have anything on Twitter or Snapchat or Facebook," Gist said.

He says if people believe the shooting was a hate crime, they need to take action instead of just talking about it.

"Those same group of people out here asking for a hate crime, for this young man to be charged with a hate crime, you need to start writing your legislators, your representatives, so that we can get a hate crime bill back on board. And participate in why we actually need a hate crime bill," he said.

The Allen County prosecutor would not comment on a pending case.

Joseph Bossard is scheduled to have his initial court hearing on two counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, and others Thursday.

Governor Holcomb did sign a hate crime measure into law two years ago, but because the bill's language left out protections for several key demographics the Anti-Defamation League does not consider it a true hate crime law.

Corinne Rose

Corinne Rose is a reporter for WPTA.

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