Florida man thought priest was terrorist

| November 12, 2009

TAMPA – The attack on a Greek Orthodox priest in Tampa is continuing to generate strong reaction across the Bay Area. Now there are calls to charge a Marine reservist with a hate crime.

Police say reservist Jasen Bruce has changed his story. On a 911 tape and to arriving officers, Bruce allegedly insisted that visiting priest Alexious Marakis was a terrorist, but then Bruce claimed the priest groped him sexually.

"This bearded individual in long robes and sandals says something to him in a language he doesn't understand, and the next thing you know, he's grabbing his genitals," offered Jeffrey Brown, Bruce's attorney.

Ahmed Bedier of the Tampa Human Rights Council says he asked the priest about that.

"He expressed to me that's outrageous, that's a flat-out lie, and that's not what happened," Bedier stated.

Police say the six-foot, 220-pound Bruce chased and hit the priest, who doesn't speak English, several times with a tire iron after the priest asked Bruce for directions.

Bruce, 28, has done fitness modeling on an All American Guys.com, a Tampa-based website. The photographer told FOX 13 such an attack is just not in Bruce's character.

"There are two sides to every story. I don't think that he would have done something on the spur of the moment with hate and malicious intentions. I think that we'll have to wait to see how the story plays out," Michael Downs said.

But Bedier says police ought to upgrade the charges to a hate crime.

"This fits the classic definition of a hate crime. The suspect attacked the victim on the perception he was Arab or Muslim and made references to that in the 911 call and when police arrived, describing him as an Arab terrorist," Bedier continued.

FOX 13 tried repeatedly to reach Marakis through his church, as well as a lawyer who has been assisting him. However, there may be some cultural issues in play since we're told it is against Greek law to comment publicly about pending legal matters.

Meanwhile, Father Marakis conducted a funeral at a church in Tarpon Springs, as if, parishioners said, nothing had happened.

"Any other person wouldn't have come back to work, but seeing he conducted a funeral, that was really nice of him after what happened," Jonathan Hamilton observed.

The State Attorney's Office was closed for the Veteran's Day holiday, so no one there was available to comment on any potential hate crime charges.



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Category: Church Security

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