LaDonna Horne turned away from the cameras outside a courtroom to smile at her son, a cane-assisted walking miracle.
“I am glad to have him back,” the Auburn woman said of her son, DaShawn Horne, who is recovering from a traumatic brain injury after being brutally beaten unconscious 10 months ago by an Auburn man in what authorities called a racially-motivated attack. “I’m glad that justice has been served for DaShawn. … It’s been a long journey.”
The Horne family got some closure Friday afternoon in a full King County courtroom at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent.
King County Superior Court Judge Julia L. Garratt sentenced 18-year-old Julian Tuimauga to 160 months – more than 13 years – in prison and three years of probation after his release for beating the then-26-year-old, African-American man in the front yard of Tuimauga’s sister’s home in Auburn on Jan. 20.
Tuimauga attacked Horne in a rage with an aluminum baseball bat after he learned his sister had spent the night with Horne at her Auburn residence, according to an Auburn Police report and charging papers.
Prosecutors sought the maximum recommendation of 160 months.
In a plea deal struck on Aug. 20 to avoid federal hate crime charges, Tuimauga, who is listed as Asian in court documents, admitted to beating DaShawn Horne with a bat while yelling racist remarks at him. Tuimauga pleaded guilty to first-degree assault, malicious harassment involving hate speech and accepted a deadly weapon enhancement, which adds a mandatory two additional years to his prison sentence.
King County Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Stephen Herschkowitz said adding the enhancement came with an agreement with the U.S. attorney that federal hate crime charges would not be filed against Tuimauga.
Prosecutors reached the plea bargain with the intent to bring closure to the Horne family and protect the beaten man from going through trials in state and federal courts. DaShawn Horne, 27, who worked as a mail handler for the U.S. Post Office in Kent, and a father of a 2-year-old boy, continues to recover from the injuries and requires around-the-clock care.
On Friday, Garratt favored the high-end sentence, considering the severe nature of the attack that left Horne with life-threatening injuries and a subsequent long and painful recovery. Rushed to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle after the attack, Horne fell into a coma for nearly two months, contracted pneumonia and MRSA but pulled through a series of surgeries to mend critical injuries to his head, neck and back. He spent 103 days in the hospital.
“The behavior exhibited by the defendant was abhorrent. It was horrible and defied logic,” Herschkowitz said at sentencing. “The defendant brutally assaulted DaShawn Horne with a baseball bat, hit him in the back of the head, knocking him unconscious, landing face first into gravel. Eventually, DaShawn was able to stand up, stumbled head first into a rockery.
“But that wasn’t enough,” Herschkowitz said. “The defendant continuously beat DaShawn, who was lying bleeding and unconscious on the ground, causing devastating injuries not just to his head but also his back, causing eventual additional complications for his medical treatment, extending his time in the hospital for many months.”
Furthermore, prosecutors said, Tuimauga video recorded his attack, which was shown in court prior to his sentencing Friday.
“The defendant in the coup de grace decided to videotape himself with a baseball bat in his hand, screaming racial epitaphs as DaShawn Horne laid on the rockery,” Herschkowitz said.
Robert Huff, Tuimauga’s attorney, agreed with prosecutors that it was an inexcusable act, but asked the court for leniency in sentencing a teenager who had a difficult childhood, lost his mother when he was young and just turned 18 before the incident.
“There is absolutely no way to defend what happened here,” Huff said. “We are not trying to make any excuses. … Julian snapped. He was not in control of himself. He handled this in the most horrible way possible.”
LaDonna Horne addressed the court and asked Tuimauga why he reacted with such rage in beating her son.
“What gave you the right to make this decision?” she said, glancing at Tuimauga. “I thank God that he is in control and not you. You don’t get to decide who lives or dies. God does. Love will always conquer over hate, and that is why DaShawn is still here. … You tried to murder my son but you couldn’t, and yet I did forgive you, but I will never, ever forget what happened on Jan. 20, 2018, the day our lives changed.”
Given a chance to apologize, Tuimauga did so, quietly and without facing the Horne family and their friends occupying one side of the courtroom.
“To the community, I know I’m not a racist. It is not a hate crime,” Tuimauga read from a prepared statement. “I would like to apologize to my victim and especially his mom.”
Afterward, LaDonna Horne was satisfied with Tuimauga’s message. Families members from both sides of the case embraced.
“He apologized. That said a lot, meant a lot to us and we appreciate it,” she said. “We will still have him in our prayers.”
LaDonna Horne looks forward to moving on and helping her son fully recover. Therapy has brought DaShawn Horne back on his feet and re-learning how to do everyday tasks, like bathing, brushing his teeth, getting dressed and walking. He still is unable to smell things or taste certain foods, feels chronic pain in his legs and is struggling with aphasia, a disorder caused by damage to the parts of the brain that control language, making it difficult for him to read, write and speak, his mother said.
“It was so hard to watch my son go through so much suffering and pain,” she said, “and it is still (hard to watch) today.”