For Immediate Release
April 24, 2006
Contact: Susan Kang Schroeder
Deputy District Attorney
(714) 347-8408 Office
(714) 292-2718 Cell



SANTA ANA – An Orange County jury convicted a Santa Ana Hispanic man for assaulting a black man with a knife and making criminal threats while hurling racial epithets.  The trial was conducted before the Honorable Marc Kelly at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana and decided by a jury panel made up of seven women and five men.  Seven of the jurors were white, two were Asian, and three were Hispanic.  He will be sentenced on June 23, 2006.

Abel Castaneda, 39, was charged and convicted of assault with a deadly weapon (a knife), criminal threats, and the hate crimes enhancements.  Castaneda could receive a maximum of 11 years and 4 months in state prison.  He has been in custody on $130,000 bail since his arrest on August 25, 2005.

On August 23, 2005, Steve Lawson, who is black, took his car to the Menchaca Auto Service in Santa Ana for servicing.  The defendant, who is Hispanic, was riding by the shop on his bicycle.  He approached the victim asking “what the f___ are you looking at n___.”  He stated in an angry manner, “I’ll kill you n___” and “I hate n___.”  Mr. Lawson tried to calm the defendant down.  When the Defendant pulled a knife out, he became frightened.  The defendant lunged at Mr. Lawson repeatedly while screaming, “I’ll take care of you n___!”  Mr. Lawson avoided being stabbed by the knife by jumping back.  On the defendant’s third attempt, Lawson grabbed the Defendant’s wrist and disarmed him.   The auto shop owner, Manuel Menchaca, a Hispanic man, saw the incident and heard the repeated racial epithets.  Menchaca did not see the victim do anything to provoke the attack.  The defendant fled the scene.

 “Hate crime laws prevent and harshly punish people who are committing these crimes based on the victim’s race, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, gender, and disability.  We as Americans have a right and the expectation to be free from becoming victims simply because we look different than what the perpetrator expects,” stated Deputy District Attorney Scott Steiner of the Felony Projects Unit who prosecuted this case.  “We can’t change a bigoted heart, but we will not tolerate bigoted crimes.”

A Hate Crimes enhancement may add up to four years in prison if a jury finds the allegations to be true.  The Orange County District Attorney assigns an experienced prosecutor to handle all hate crime cases in the county.  This prosecutor also speaks to many groups to raise awareness to educate and prevent hate crimes.