Victims filled a courtroom Thursday afternoon to see the sentencing of a man charged in a federal anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime case.
Originally charged with a litany of crimes by Boise and Ada County authorities, Matthew Lehigh, 32, of Oregon, pleaded guilty to two felony charges of violating the Hate Crimes Prevention Act for separate vehicular assaults, according to the Department of Justice. All of his crimes took place Oct. 5-12, 2022, in Boise, and he will spend the next three years in prison because of them.
Lehigh entered the Boise Public Library’s main branch, called a transgender library employee a slur, punched her and threatened to stab her, the Idaho Statesman previously reported. After a security guard stepped in and followed Lehigh to a parking lot, Lehigh tried to run over the guard with his vehicle.
In another Boise parking lot four days later, Lehigh spotted two women he believed to be lesbians, according to court records, and shouted at them before trying to hit them with his car. They jumped out of his way and he hit another vehicle.
He acknowledged in court in June that he also set a Pride flag on fire, broke windows and punched a man after calling him an anti-LGBTQ+ slur.
Senior U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill sentenced Lehigh to 37 months in prison for each of the two federal counts, to be served concurrently, followed by three years of probation. Lehigh was also ordered to pay $7,103 in restitution to victims.
Three victims spoke about the impact the crimes had on them.
Vegas Shegrud, whom Lehigh tried to hit with his vehicle, said she struggled with her mental health after the incident and eventually dropped out of school.
“The fear I felt that day is unparalleled by any other event in my life,” Shegrud said in court. “Almost immediately following the incident, I started having worse panic attacks than I’ve ever had before.“
The victims also offered compassion toward Lehigh, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Lehigh’s defense attorney said that his client is a Christian who believes homosexuality is a sin. He also said Lehigh never wished to harm members of the LGBTQ+ community until his mental health worsened.
Now in treatment, Lehigh said he regrets his actions and apologized for the pain he caused.
“I don’t have too much to say other than just my regret and my great gratitude that things didn’t end up worse than they did,” Lehigh said in court.
Lehigh’s Idaho cases were dropped after the federal charges were brought, and that federal case led to a plea deal. Boise and Ada County prosecutors dismissed assault, malicious injury to property, arson and battery charges, according to court records.
As the Statesman previously reported, local law enforcement could not pursue a hate crime case against Lehigh because the state’s malicious harassment statute does not cover sexual orientation or gender identity. It refers to malicious harassment as the “intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that person’s race, color, religion, ancestry, or national origin.”
“Each of you who were touched by this have developed some resilience and wisdom and understanding,” Winmill said in court. “But what is unfortunate is that our leaders in our community don’t acquire that same wisdom and appreciate that there is a need to protect those in our society.”
In October, Ada County Magistrate Judge Regan Jameson found Lehigh unfit to have his state case proceed unless his competency could be restored, according to previous Statesman reporting. Jameson ruled on Jan. 18 that the case could resume, but that same day, Prosecutor Jan Bennetts moved to dismiss it without prejudice, since Lehigh had been charged federally by that point.
Because it was dismissed without prejudice, prosecutors could refile the charges in the future.