- Associated Press - Monday, November 28, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A white man serving a three- to six-year state court sentence for beating a black man at a Pittsburgh commuter rail station during a drunken argument following a Kenny Chesney concert has agreed to plead guilty to a federal hate crime charge for the nonfatal incident, federal prosecutors and his attorney said Monday.

The charge against Ryan Kyle, 22, is filed under the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which makes it illegal to cause physical harm because of expressed racial animus.

“The anticipated plea in this case ensures that Ryan Kyle is held fully accountable for a federal hate crime that carries a significant sentence, highlights the radial motivation for the offense, and demonstrates the federal government’s commitment to prosecuting racially-motivated crimes,” U.S. Attorney David Hickton said.

Kyle’s attorney, Almon Burke, a former federal prosecutor, confirmed Ryan has agreed to plead guilty to the charge, which can carry up to 10 years in prison. But Burke said he and federal prosecutors are recommending a three-year sentence that will run concurrently with Ryan’s state sentence - meaning Ryan won’t serve any additional prison time if a judge approves the plea deal.

No court dates were scheduled in the case.

Kyle pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, ethnic intimidation and robbery and was sentenced to prison by an Allegheny County judge in April after prosecutors dropped an attempted homicide charge.

Kevin Lockett, then 53, told police he was carrying a blue cooler when he got on the trolley near PNC Park and heard racial slurs before attempting to depart late on May 30, 2015. Lockett wanted to get off the train sooner, but his exit was blocked by a crowd leaving the concert at Heinz Field.

Once he got off the train, Lockett contends Kyle and four friends confronted him. He said he was thrown onto the tracks, but managed to get back onto the train platform, Pittsburgh police said in a criminal complaint. After he was beaten, Lockett said his cooler of beer and food was stolen.

The four men charged along with Kyle were convicted of lesser charges and sentenced to probation.

Kyle faced more severe charges - and the federal hate crime charge - because surveillance video clearly showed him punching Lockett repeatedly, Burke said. The others stood around but whether they used slurs couldn’t be proven because the video doesn’t include sound.

“You can see what they’re doing, but you can’t tell if they’re adding their voices to discourage or encourage” the attack on Lockett, said Burke, who called the incident more a case of “drunken idiocy” than a hate crime.

“I understand there was some very harsh language used from my client about the victim,” Burke said, but “it seemed like there was as much mouthing off from the victim to my client as there was from my client to the victim before the punches were thrown.”

“It’s really a couple of drunken guys, but one happens to be black and one happens to be white,” Burke said.

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