TOWSON, Md. — Opening statements were delivered Monday in the hate crime trial of Brandon Troy Higgs, a 25-year-old white supremacist accused of attacking two Black men and shooting one of them.
Higgs, a former Navy cryptologist, appeared at the Circuit Court of Baltimore County in a red prison jumpsuit, his tattoo of a yellow identitarian lambda, a white nationalist symbol, visible on his arm.
He has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder, assault, committing hate crimes and firearms-related charges stemming from an incident on Dec. 20, 2018, in Reisterstown, a suburb of Baltimore.
Higgs, who has ties to organized neo-Nazi groups, faces up to life in prison if convicted of the attempted murder charge.
His two alleged victims, Elvis Smith and Robert Peete, talked exclusively to HuffPost last year for a story examining hate in America.
John Magee, a prosecutor for the state’s attorney’s office, recounted Higgs’s alleged attack to jurors in vivid detail during his opening statement Monday.
Smith and Peete, both of whom are Black, were “just doing their job,” Magee said, on a cold and rainy day in December. They were laying concrete on a driveway when a dog belonging to Higgs ran through the wet concrete.
Higgs and the two workers exchanged some angry words, Magee said. Higgs, who was shirtless and shoeless at the time, returned the dog to his house nearby.
“It should’ve ended there,” Magee told the jurors. Smith and Peete just “went back to work.”
It was Higgs, Magee emphasized, who escalated things by coming back with a “loaded gun and a spare magazine” in the pocket of a hooded sweatshirt he’d put on.
Magee told the jurors that Higgs then accosted Smith and Peete with racial remarks, including “go back to Africa” and “the n-word.”
Magee repeated these alleged racial remarks to the jurors five times throughout his opening statement for emphasis.
“Go back to Africa.”
Higgs then allegedly pushed Smith, who pushed Higgs back and hit him with a small rake.
That’s when Higgs allegedly pulled out his gun. Smith started to “fight for his life,” Magee said, and Peete jumped in to help his co-worker.
At some point, Magee said, Higgs had “control of his loaded handgun and he pulls the trigger, and Elvis Smith is struck in the leg.”
Smith and Peete then “rightfully” beat up Higgs, Magee said, and restrained him until police arrived.
Ultimately, Magee argued to the jurors, evidence will show that Higgs “brought a gun to a word-fight of his own making” and that he should be convicted of all charges.
James Crawford, an attorney for Higgs, told jurors that this is a “complicated” case.
Did Higgs make racist statements? Yes, Crawford told the jury, he might have.
“It’s easy to say ‘Bad Mr. Higgs,’” Crawford said. “That’s fine. But I’m here for justice.”
The evidence, he insisted, will show that what took place “was a struggle for a weapon” and that Higgs “did not have control of the weapon when the bullet went off.”
The court adjourned after Crawford’s opening statement. As the 12 jurors — only two of whom are Black — filed out of the court, Higgs smiled and blew a kiss to family and friends in the courtroom.
Earlier that day during jury selection, Higgs looked out over a diverse crowd of 100 potential jurors. He took notes as jurors were questioned. His attorney ultimately rejected seven Black potential jurors from the jury pool.
The trial is likely to conclude later this week, when the 12 jurors — four white women, six white men, one Black man and one Black woman — determine Higgs’s fate.
It’s yet to be seen whether white supremacist group chat logs leaked last year, which show Higgs spewing racist vitriol, will be submitted as evidence in the trial.
The chat logs show Higgs was well-connected to the neo-Nazis and other assorted fascists who organized 2017’s deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“Brb hookjng [sic] up my nigger mulcher to the truck,” he wrote in one chat group for people planning Unite the Right.
The chat logs also show Higgs talking on several occasions about killing Black people in Baltimore.
“I decided I’m going to create my own group called Baltimore Animal Control and buy those dog patrol poles with the snare at the end and wrangle niggers with it,” he wrote. “Also want to leave bear traps in Baltimore city with buckets of KFC chicken.”
In another post, Higgs referred to Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who massacred Black parishioners at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, as “St. Roof.”