Lonny Rae doesn't deny that he used a racial slur last October after seeing a black man scuffle with his wife, who like Rae is white. For uttering an ugly word in what he says was the heat of the moment as he tried to defend his wife, Idaho prosecutors are charging him with a hate crime that could land him in jail for five years.
The Raes and their lawyer, Edgar Steele, say he has been scapegoated by a state that has become overly sensitive to characterizations that it is a home to white separatist racists.
Since the incident, which occurred after a high school football game that Rae's wife, Kimberly, was covering for a local paper, both the Raes found themselves out of work and essentially driven out of town as a result of the bad publicity, they say.
What shocked them more than that was the prosecutor's decision to charge Lonny Rae with felony malicious harassment and disturbing the peace, while not filing charges against the man who scuffled with his wife over her camera.
"They weren't interested in that," Lonny Rae said. "The biggest concern they had was that I used the 'N' word.
"What happened to the guy who actually caused some injury? Nothing," he added. "Why? Because this man is using the laws in this state and the reputation this state has received through some stuff that's happened with the Aryan Nation, trying to change the reputation of the state."
Myron Gabbert, the Adams County prosecutor, denied that there is anything beyond the specifics of the case behind his decision to file charges against Rae.
"This office would not prosecute or level charges against anyone without feeling there was a basis under the laws of Idaho," Gabbert said.
Neither the Adams County sheriff's office nor an Adams County commissioner who the Raes said witnessed the event returned calls requesting comments on the incident. The editor of the Adams County Record, Tim Hohs, said that the account given by the Raes "generally" conformed to what his paper's investigation found.
An Unwanted Picture
Kimberly Rae, who said she worked as a bookkeeper, production editor, reporter and sports editor for the Adams County Record, said she wanted to take a photograph of the referees who worked the Council high school football game because she thought they had determined the outcome of the game.
Council lost, ending its hopes of going to the state playoffs, after a trio of referees brought in from Boise called the game very closely.
"A lot of penalties were called throughout the game and I decided I was going to include that perspective in my stories," she said.
She said she left her husband at their truck to get a photo of the referees as they went into the locker room. She had already snapped one picture when one of the referees asked her not to take their picture, so she turned to rejoin her husband, she said.
She hadn't gotten more than a few steps away, though, when one of the referees, who was black, grabbed at her camera and tried to take it away from her, she said. She wouldn't give it up, and the referee, who stood a foot taller than Kimberly Rae and outweighed her by more than a hundred pounds, wrestled with her to get it.
"One of the other referees was telling him to 'let her go, it ain't worth it,'" she said
She started screaming for her husband, who came running from their truck, some hundred yards away.