MOORHEAD — A Moorhead man was sentenced in Clay County District Court on Friday, July 30, to 40 hours of community service that benefits a minority group after he earlier pleaded guilty to a charge of felony harassment for vandalizing a mosque in April.
Benjamin Stewart Enderle, 22, said during Friday's hearing that spray-painting racist graffiti on the Moorhead Fargo Islamic Community Center was the "stupidest thing I've ever done in my life" and he asked for forgiveness.
Otoo Haarun, president of the mosque, provided a victim-impact statement during the hearing, stating that the vandalism had caused fear and paranoia among mosque members.
Even so, he added, "We have forgiven you and hope it (the incident) is a turning point in your life."
According to court records, Enderle wore a mask as he spray-painted the mosque at 2215 12th Ave. S. in Moorhead at about 11:37 p.m. April 24. Enderle was arrested April 27, and during a subsequent court hearing he said he regretted his actions.
The charges against Enderle were enhanced because they involved allegations of bias against a protected class, prosecutors said. Some of the spray-painted messages on the building included "Death to Islam" and women "can't vote."
Enderle's attorney, Michael Minard, said that from his first contact with his client, Enderle has been apologetic and remorseful of his actions and wishes he could undo what he did.
Minard added that Enderle has told him "he just did it to get a rise out of the news media," and the attorney said his client took full and sole responsibility for what happened.
In addition to community service, Enderle was given credit for having already served 95 days behind bars and he was placed on supervised probation for five years. He was also ordered to take part in a restorative justice program.
Prosecutor Pam Foss told Judge Tammy Merkins that a restorative justice sentence was unusual in an adult case, but she said she supported the plea agreement after meeting with mosque members.
"I was amazed in meeting with those individuals at their capacity for forgiveness to Mr. Enderle and their willingness to be part of the process," Foss said.
Foss added that as part of the restorative justice program, it's likely members of the mosque will meet with Enderle "and hopefully nothing but good will come out of that."
Merkins told Enderle he could be released from jail after the sentencing hearing.
The Moorhead Police Department investigated the case with the FBI. Federal charges haven't been filed, and it's unclear if they will be.