By Jenn Miller
A Penn State student pleaded guilty in court Thursday to charges of ethnic intimidation and criminal mischief for painting a swastika as part of a fraternity prank.
In December, State College police charged Hayden Grom, 19, of New Fairfield, Conn., and Eric Hyland, 20, of Export, with ethnic intimidation and criminal mischief.
The charges stem from a November incident in which the men allegedly spray-painted 12 vehicles, a dumpster and a garage near Beta Sigma Beta Fraternity on Berry Alley. The graffiti included sexual images and words, swastikas, anti-Semitic language, the initials “K.K.K.” and random scribbling, according to police.
Grom pleaded guilty in Centre County Common Pleas Court Thursday before President Judge Thomas Kistler in exchange for two years of probation and no jail time. Grom must also help pay back a $5,000 reward offered after the incident for information leading to the arrest of the vandals.
Matt McClenahen, defense attorney for Grom, says when the vandalism occurred his client was oblivious to the history of the Nazis and National Socialism like many other young people in America. McClenahen also noted that Grom only painted one swastika, copying Hyland’s actions.
McClenahen says the act was the result of a combination of youth, ignorance and drunkenness and was not a hate crime of any kind. McClenahen noted the swastikas were not drawn in the same style as the Nazi symbol.
Since the arrest, McClenahen says his client, under his advice, has read books and viewed films about the Holocaust and World War II and met with a professor on campus who is an expert in the area of race and ethnicity.
“He understands now the significance of what he did and that’s part of the healing process and he has to live with it and the guilt of it,” says McClenahen.