A former basketball player at Elmhurst College was convicted of a felony hate crime Tuesday for etching racist sentiments on the home of the school's only African-American dorm supervisor.
Myles Burton, 21, of Libertyville was found guilty after a two-hour bench trial before DuPage County Judge George Bakalis.
Prosecutors said Burton was drunk and angry when he carved "KKK" and other words disparaging African-Americans into a stone window ledge in November at Stanger Hall, a campus dormitory.
Burton later told police he vandalized the building because his basketball coach had wrongly called him racist and he wanted to demonstrate "what a real racist does."
At trial, the defense argued Burton didn't know he was damaging the home of the college's only African-American dorm supervisor and therefore his actions didn't rise to the level of a hate crime.
But the judge cited a recorded police interview in which Burton said he knew the words would be frightening to any black person. Under the law, Bakalis said, prosecutors needed to prove only that the crime was motivated by bias and not that Burton directed it toward a specific person.
"The fact of the matter is, he wrote the words in question and knew it would cause someone to feel afraid and demeaned," Bakalis said.
Security footage played in court showed Burton pick up a rock and etch the messages into the stone ledge about 11:20 p.m. on Nov. 11. A campus security administrator testifying for the prosecution noted he appeared to step back and laugh at one point.
The 28-year-old victim, who lives at Stanger Hall to assist resident students, didn't notice the damage until about a month later, when she walked by from a direction she didn't often travel. Authorities said she was near tears when campus security arrived.
"I was taken aback because I never saw anything like that before," the victim testified Tuesday. "I was immediately afraid. I was raised in Mississippi, and I am very aware of what the KKK means and symbolizes."
In a police interview, Burton said he had been out drinking beer with two friends and only wrote the messages because he was upset with his basketball coach. He didn't explain the feud, but he denied being racist.
"I was drunk that night and I had a lot of anger built up inside of me," he said on the recording.
Asked whether he knew the victim was black, Burton said, "I've probably seen her around campus; there's not many."
Assistant State's Attorneys Nicole Wilkes-English and Todd Fanter argued in closing arguments that it would be "absurd" to believe Burton coincidentally selected the crime scene or that bias didn't factor into his actions.
"No matter how he felt toward his coach, clearly race was a factor in what he did," Fanter said.
Burton has no prior criminal history. He faces up to fives years in prison but also could receive probation at sentencing, tentatively set for June 19.
Prosecutors said he also faces a DUI charge stemming from an arrest last month in Lake County.