Jury out on racial graffiti case

Becky Vargo • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:14 PM

The jury began deliberating after testimony in the one-day trial ended at 4 p.m. Thursday. Ottawa County Judge Jon Hulsing sent them home about an hour later.

Kenneth Ray Schmidt, 56, is charged with ethnic intimidation, which is punishable by up to two years in prison. He is also charged with malicious destruction of property, a misdemeanor that's punishable by up to 93 days in jail.

Only the accused man’s daughter sat in the Ottawa County Circuit Court gallery for the trial. Amy Sue Schmidt checked her cellphone occasionally as witnesses testified and the attorneys presented their closing arguments. Her father sat quietly throughout the proceedings.

Police said Schmidt entered a unit at Williamsburg Court Apartments, 1106 S. Beacon Blvd., on May 8, 2012, and wrote in red marker, “We don’t want any n****** working here.”

In an interview with police, Schmidt said he would never have done such a thing.

Courtney Alexander, an African-American man who was employed as a maintenance worker at the complex, had just completed painting the apartment.

Alexander testified Thursday that he left the apartment's front door unlocked while he was moving supplies to another unit.

Alexander said he found the message when he came back.

“I went over the threshold — it was right there,” Alexander said. “... I wasn’t afraid, but it spooked me. There was just no need for that.”

Alexander, who now works for the Michigan Department of Corrections, said he didn’t understand why anyone would write such a message.

“I do my job (and) I was very cordial to everyone,” he said.

Prosecuting attorney John Scheurle emphasized in his closing argument that Schmidt, who lived in a neighboring building at the complex, could clearly see that the maintenance man was working nearby.

Scheurle also noted that Schmidt had revealed unhappiness because both his ex-wife and ex-girlfriend had relationships with African-American men.

Scheurle used the transcript from Schmidt’s interview with Detective Bryan Tiethof of the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety to point out that Schmidt agreed several times that the handwriting on the wall matched his own. However, despite frequent prompts from Tiethof, Schmidt answered several times that he didn’t remember doing it.

Jurors were told to report back at the courtroom at 9 a.m. Friday to continue their deliberations.

Schmidt is not in jail.

More details on the trial will be published in Friday's Tribune and e-edition.

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