Wiesel attacker free to go, but sentence satisfies ADL

Although the man convicted of accosting Holocaust scholar Elie Wiesel in a San Francisco hotel last year doesn’t have to serve any more time, local Anti-Defamation League officials say they aren’t upset.

“The judge sent a message out to the community that people like Elie Wiesel cannot feel intimidated and that they can express their opinions freely,” said Jonathan Bernstein, director of the Central Pacific Region of the ADL.

After the Aug. 18 sentencing hearing, Bernstein praised San Francisco Judge Robert Dondero for sentencing Eric Hunt, 24, on a felony charge, rather than on a misdemeanor.

Hunt, who faced up to three years behind bars, was given a two-year prison sentence; however, the judge gave him credit for time served and good behavior.

Thus, Hunt was scheduled to be released this week and return to New Jersey. He was also ordered to pay a $1,000 fine, enter into ongoing psychological treatment, spend up to 48 months on probation and not be allowed to live with his mother, Bernstein said.

In addition, the court ordered the $3,100 found in Hunt’s hotel room at the time of the crime to be forfeited to help pay certain court costs.

Jurors last month found Hunt guilty of one felony charge of false imprisonment with a hate crime enhancement for his February 2007 attack of Wiesel at the Argent Hotel in San Francisco. He also was convicted of two misdemeanor counts, one for battery and one for elder abuse.

The 79-year-old Wiesel testified during the trial that he thought Hunt was trying to kidnap him when he pulled him off an elevator on the sixth floor. Prosecutors portrayed Hunt as a stalker, contending that the crime was hate-based and that Hunt’s plan was to persuade Wiesel to renounce the Holocaust.

Dondero was quoted as saying during the sentencing that the case was “arguably overcharged” by prosecutors, but Bernstein downplayed that, saying the judge simply was giving a full-spectrum recap of the case that also included harsh condemnation of Hunt and his acts.

After the conviction in July, Abraham Foxman, ADL national director, said in a statement, “The conviction … is just and sends a resounding message to violent Holocaust deniers and other anti-Semites that when they act out their hatred they will pay a price.”

After the sentencing, Bernstein had similar sentiments, adding: “We believe this sends a powerful message to the Jewish community as well. To the Jewish community, his attempt was to try to terrorize Wiesel. I think the hate-crime enhancement was what was really important.”

During the sentencing, Hunt stood in his orange, state-issued uniform to read a letter of apology to Wiesel, who was not at the hearing. In it, Hunt asked for forgiveness from the Nobel Prize-winning author and peace activist, saying he had been “sucked into anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on the Internet” but that he does not deny the Holocaust.

“I’m tremendously sorry my mental problems infringed on your life,” Hunt read. “I hope you can live a life free of being scared of strangers.”

Making amends and recanting his past philosophies were “probably what [Hunt] wanted people to take away from his statement,” Bernstein said, “but I don’t know how much it was true.”

Bernstein also revealed that he was highly puzzled by Hunt at one point.

“He made one statement in which he thanked the Jewish community for its support,” Bernstein said. “I’m not aware that anyone in the Jewish community gave him any support.”

Nancy Appel, associated director of the ADL’s Central Pacific Region, said New Jersey officials are “going to take the responsibility to oversee [Hunt’s] parole.” She also said a provision of Hunt’s probation is that he will not be allowed to live with his mother anymore; instead, he will live with the mother’s long-term boyfriend, who has a separate residence. Hunt has never lived on his own, Appel said.

Hunt originally had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and during the trial, his defense often blamed his mother for “this young guy who is mentally ill,” a term used by Hunt’s attorney, John Runfola.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.