PORTLAND, Maine — The man accused in Maine’s first federal hate-crimes trial invoked former Gov. Paul LePage, seemingly in defense of his own alleged racist attacks on black men in April 2018.
In a recording of a phone conversation between the defendant and his wife that was submitted as evidence Monday, Maurice Diggins defended the attacks on racist grounds and speculated that he would not be found guilty by a Maine jury, citing the former governor by name.
“The Maine people want to keep the streets safe,” Diggins, who is white, told his wife on the call. “Listen to Gov. LePage — [black men are] up here impregnating our women and selling our kids drugs.
“He’s the racist, not me,” Diggins told his wife.
Diggins’s comments attempted to explain that he wouldn’t be found guilty by a jury in a predominantly white state.
“No 12 people are going to find me guilty,” Diggins said on the recording. ”Because we’re in Maine.”
Diggins is being tried by an all white jury.
It was the second day of the trial of Diggins, the 38-year-old Biddeford man accused of two counts of assault and one charge of conspiracy under a federal hate crimes act. The federal case is the first of its kind tried in Maine under the 2009 law.
The recording of the phone call was submitted as evidence moments after prosecutors asked the defendant’s wife, who gave testimony Monday, about her husband’s tattoos, including several racist symbols used by Nazis during the Third Reich and a 14-word phrase used by white supremacists that has been classified as hate speech.
The attorneys were attempting to establish that Diggins was motivated by racial prejudice when he attacked two black men with his nephew, 29-year-old Dusty Leo, in separate incidents an hour apart in Portland and Biddeford.
The prosecutors were not attempting to establish a causal relationship between the former governor’s comments and the charges.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Torreson found the recording to be “relevant and highly probative” to the defendant’s motives in the case.
While he was in office, LePage said during a 2016 town hall meeting that drug traffickers from out of state come to Maine and impregnate women who are “young” and “white” before leaving the state.
In a news conference two days later, LePage called the remark “a slip of the tongue,” and that he should have said “Maine women, not white women.”
Earlier in the day, the court heard testimony from the second of two men who suffered broken jaws in assaults allegedly by Diggins and Leo. That man, who was born in Sudan, recalled for the court how he came to be hit in the jaw by two white men outside an Old Port bar without warning or provocation.
After he was hit by one of the men, he testified that the other chased him up the street and called him a racial slur.
The man, who speaks English but testified in Arabic, told the court through a translator that he knew the word from being in the United States as long as he had.
“There’s no word like that in Arabic,” he said through a translator.
The man was given emergency facial surgery at Maine Medical Center and had his mouth wired shut for a month. The victim in Biddeford, whose assault was captured on 7-Eleven surveillance camera, also had his mouth wired shut for a month.
The trial is scheduled to resume with closing arguments on Tuesday at the U.S. District Court.