FORT WORTH -- A Dallas teen-ager convicted of murde Monday in the 1991 Skinhead hate slaying of an African-American warehouse worker was given 10 years' probation yesterday.
Prosecutors had asked the all-white Tarrant County jury to sentence Christopher William Brosky, 17, to life in prison for his role in the drive-by shooting of Donald Thomas, 32.
The ruling elated Brosky and his family, but it shocked survivors and friends of Mr. Thomas.
"I feel a lot better than I did yesterday," said Brosky, who wept and embraced his mother and girlfriend when the jurors returned their sentencing decision after 2 1/2 hours of deliberation.
Mr. Thomas' widow, Carolyn Thomas, said she was angered and saddened. Carolyn Thomas was flanked by a half-dozen friends and relatives who linked arms and joined hands as they waited for the jury's decision. They gasped in dismay as state District Judge Everett Young announced the sentence.
"Yesterday, I believed in the justice system. Now, I don't," Carolyn Thomas said. "It sends a dangerous message that if you kill someone because of their race, you can get probation."
Brosky's co-defendants, who already have pleaded guilty in the slaying, testified during the eight-day trial that Donald Thomas was a random target chosen because of his race.
Juror Richard Higgs said he knew that some observers of the high-profile trial would be hard-pressed to understand the jury's leniency in sentencing after convicting Brosky of murder.
"It's bad that Donald Thomas is gone, but this boy didn't pull the trigger," Mr. Higgs said. "We just felt like this might be a man who might be able to turn his life around. . . . If we had sent him
to Huntsville, he might have come back in worse shape."
The verdict outraged Steve Sloan, a white co-worker who was with Donald Thomas when he was shot.
"This is your legal system. I hope you're satisfied with it," said Mr. Sloan, who was sitting on a flatbed truck outside the home in east Arlington, Texas, where Mr. Thomas was shot June 7, 1991.
The sentence also shocked area civil rights groups, including the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, who said they will call for a U.S. Justice Department investigation of the case.
"The message is that it's open season on African-Americans in the Dallas-Fort Worth area," said Roy Carter, former president of the Arlington branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.