Burbank man guilty of intimidating Muslim family



By Michael Higgins
Tribune staff reporter
Published March 7, 2006

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/southsouthwest/chi-0603070268mar07,1,2036268.story

A Burbank man pleaded guilty Monday to trying to
intimidate a Muslim family in 2003 by throwing a
fireworks-type explosive into their unoccupied van.

Eric K. Nix, 27, pleaded guilty Monday to one count of
criminal interference with the right to fair housing.
The plea came two days before Nix's trial was set to
begin in federal court in Chicago.

Nix's case is unusual because he was charged in
federal court in July after he had already been
convicted in state court of misdemeanor charges
stemming from the same incident.

Nix pleaded guilty "blind," or with no plea agreement,
in federal court. But in a written statement, Nix
admitted that he had targeted the family because they
were of Arab descent and had chosen to live in
Burbank.

In the statement, Nix also said that he regretted his
conduct.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly is to sentence
Nix on June 8.

The maximum possible sentence under the fair housing
statute is 10 years. But defendants rarely receive the
statutory maximum, and prosecutors and defense lawyers
will argue to Kennelly over the appropriate sentence.

Prosecutors said that on March 21, 2003, Nix tossed a
"commercial aerial explosive shell" into a Ford
Econoline van that was parked outside the family's
home.

The shell exploded and totaled the vehicle.

Nix said in his statement Monday that he also had been
angry because he thought authorities had towed his
vehicle while allowing the van to stay parked outside
the family's house.

Nix has a learning disability that makes it hard for
him to read, as well as problems with impulsive
behavior, his attorney, Daniel Hesler, said Monday at
the hearing

In 2003, Nix pleaded guilty in Cook County Circuit
Court to arson, criminal damage to property and
committing a hate crime in the incident, which
occurred just days after the U.S. invaded Iraq.

Nix was sentenced in September 2003 in Cook County
Circuit Court to 200 hours of community service and
two years' probation. But Muslim civil rights groups
and the victim, Abbas Salmi, criticized the penalty as
"a slap on the wrist."

In July, federal prosecutors charged Nix. It is rare
for the federal government to charge a defendant for
the same conduct for which he was prosecuted in state
court.

That same month, federal prosecutors also charged
Daniel Alba with lying about the incident to Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents.

Alba pleaded guilty in November.

U.S. District Judge John Darrah is to sentence Alba on
March 14.

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mjhiggins@tribune.com





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