August 22, 2006 — Superior Court Judge Brenda Hollar sentenced St. John resident Robert Sells on Tuesday to serve four months in prison for misdemeanor aggravated assault and battery and felony intimidation with "racial bias" against fellow St. Johnian Esther Frett.
Sells' sentence was 2 years, but Hollar suspended all but four months and ordered the 51-year-old merchant to three years supervised probation and to attend anger management counseling and write a newspaper editorial on "racial discord."
Sells' attorney, Treston Moore, said he plans to appeal.
Prosecutor Brenda Scales had requested Sells receive a five-year prison sentence.
"Racial intimidation is a very difficult thing to prove, but Mr. Sells made it very easy for us," Scales said.
Scales said Sells, a white man, used racial slurs and intimidation for two years, at one point exposing his bare buttocks to Frett and other black women.
Hollar convicted Sells in late June of assaulting Frett and nearly knocking her over during a confrontation on June 3, 2005 (See "Sells Pleads Innocent to Charges").
Sells read a written apology to Frett — who did not attend the sentencing — and her husband, Gerald, who trembled during much of the proceeding.
"I'd also like the community of St. John to forgive my disrespectful acts," said Sells, who wore a smirk as he strode into the courtroom in handcuffs.
About 20 Sells supporters filled the courtroom, several testifying that Sells — the Asian import store owner, known as Bali Bob — was sometimes a hothead who talked too much but was a deeply spiritual and giving person who came to St. John because of its racial harmony.
They were adamant that Sells was not a racist and meant no harm. They said he was ignorant of the hurt he was causing Frett and her family.
Scales questioned one supporter: "Bob Sells is from the states. He's 51. You don't think he knows the word 'nigger' is hurtful to people?"
Gerald Frett spoke at the sentencing, saying those pitying Sells, whose car and business were torched shortly after the assault, have forgotten who the real victim is. He said his wife was not the same after the intimidation, did not laugh and needed to leave St. John frequently to recover.
"When she comes home sometimes she cry, wanting to know what she had done," Gerald Frett said. "She's not the happy laughing person she once was."
Judge Hollar said racial disharmony is not a traditional V.I. value and should not be trivialized.
"The events leading up to this sentencing no doubt started a firestorm of racial unrest, this on the normally tranquil island of St. John, ironically known as Love City," Hollar said. "The problem here is, many of the witnesses think the best way to solve the problem is to sweep it under the table. But you heal first by recognizing there is a problem."
The U.S. Department of Justice has yet to release results of a yearlong investigation into Frett's claim that a group of white men kidnapped, raped and beat her shortly after racially intimidating graffiti appeared on her car and home.
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