Oregon man sentenced for LGBTQ+ hate crimes in Idaho, including trying to hit people with car
BOISE, Idaho. (AP) — An Oregon man who pleaded guilty in connection with LGBTQ+ hate crimes, including trying to hit people with a car in Idaho last year, has been sentenced to just over three years in prison.
Matthew Lehigh was sentenced Thursday to 37 months followed by three years of supervised release and he must pay restitution, according to the U.S. Justice Department. Lehigh, 32, previously pleaded guilty to two felony charges of violating the Hate Crimes Prevention Act as part of a plea agreement.
Last October, Lehigh punched and threatened a transgender librarian in Boise before trying to run over a library security guard with his vehicle, according to court documents.
Days later, he saw two women he “assumed, based on their appearance and dress” were lesbians, documents said. Lehigh shouted threats and slurs at them and accelerated his car toward them. The women jumped out of the way and Lehigh’s vehicle hit the car belonging to one of the women, documents said.
The Justice Department said Lehigh, as part of the agreement, also admitted responsibility for punching someone else after using an anti-LGBTQ+ slur and setting on fire a pride flag that was on a same-sex couple’s porch.
Lehigh’s attorney said as a Christian, Lehigh believes homosexuality is a sin, the Idaho Statesman reported. The attorney also said Lehigh didn’t wish to harm members of the LGBTQ+ community until his mental health worsened.
Lehigh, who has been in treatment, apologized in court. “I don’t have too much to say other than just my regret and my great gratitude that things didn’t end up worse than they did,” Lehigh said.
Local law enforcement could not pursue a hate crime case against Lehigh because the state’s malicious harassment statute does not cover sexual orientation or gender identity. Boise and Ada County prosecutors dismissed assault and other charges after the federal charges were brought.
Vegas Shegrud, one of the people Lehigh tried to hit with his vehicle, said in court that she struggled with her mental health after the incident and eventually dropped out of school.
“The fear I felt that day is unparalleled by any other event in my life,” Shegrud said.