URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — The teenager accused of spray-painting swastikas and racial slurs on headstones in a Champaign cemetery has been arraigned in court on hate crime charges.
Julia Rietz, the Champaign County State’s Attorney, said Dominic Koca was charged on Friday with three counts of committing a hate crime. She also requested that he be detained under the Pretrial Fairness Act, a hearing on which will be held Monday. Judge Brett Olmstead ordered that Koca remain in custody until that hearing.
Rietz said that Koca waived his Miranda rights and admitted to law enforcement officers that he was behind to a series of vandalism and hateful displays that started on Wednesday. A swastika was found spray painted on a sidewalk at Mattis Park and a Nazi flag was found displayed nearby.
She said Koca told officers that he had hateful feelings toward racial and ethnic groups that had intensified since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in the Middle East. He wanted to “be known for something,” Rietz said.
After these initial displays, Koca is said to have later seen references to them made by Crime Stoppers and that enticed him to do more. Later that day, he is accused of going to St. Mary’s Cemetery and defacing at least nine gravesites. All of the defaced headstones are currently covered and the cemetery’s managers, the Knights of Columbus, said it could cost more than $10,000 to remove the paint.
A witness saw this happening and called police, who arrested Koca after he tried to flee.
When committed in a cemetery, hate crimes are considered Class 3 felonies that are punishable by either three to five years in prison or a minimum sentence of 200 hours of community service.
Champaign County NAACP President Minnie Pearson said these actions only create more tension and said introspective conversations can go a long way.
“Being an African American person, it is very hurtful and it further divides us, it does nothing to bring us together,” Pearson said. “Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and say, ‘How would I like it if someone was doing me like that, or, my family or some of my children?’ even my grandmothers and grandfathers.”
Rietz added that at arraignment, she submitted to Judge Olmstead information regarding Koca’s mental health records, which were provided by Koca’s mother. The records indicate that Koca has been diagnosed with autism and has intrusive thoughts and psychosis. The records also said that Koca hears voices telling him that he is a Nazi and he has been physically aggressive in the past.
Based on that information, Olmstead denied a request from the Public Defender’s Office that Koca’s be released from custody. Olmstead ordered that Koca remain in custody at least for the weekend until further proceedings at the start of next week.