BY STEVE KEMME
The Cincinnati Enquirer
HAMILTON -- Unmoved by Steve R. Cole's apology in court, a Butler County judge handed him a six-year prison sentence Thursday for his role in the brutal beating of a Miami University student that some say was racially motivated.
"I think your remorse comes only because you got caught," Judge Anthony Valen said. "You could have killed this boy. His injuries were devastating. It's horrible."
Mr. Cole, 19, of Oxford pleaded guilty to felonious assault in July. In addition to the six-year prison term, Judge Valen gave him a $15,000 fine and ordered him to reimburse the victim for medical expenses.
Mr. Cole and a friend, Jeffrey E. Eberle, 20, of Loveland -- both of whom are white -- attacked Jason Christopher Kindinger, an African American, on Jan. 18. Mr. Kindinger and a friend were walking down a street in Oxford at the time.
His friend escaped, but Mr. Kindinger was kicked and punched by Mr. Cole and Mr. Eberle. Witnesses said Mr. Cole also beat him with an ax handle.
Police said there were conflicting reports about whether the two men yelled racial epithets during the attack. After both cases are resolved, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Cincinnati will decide whether to file federal hate-crime charges. Mr. Cole's attorney, Monica Spohn, said race played no part in the attack.
Mr. Eberle has pleaded guilty to felonious assault, but he has not been sentenced yet.
After the attack, Mr. Kindinger withdrew from Miami and underwent surgery to rebuild his left cheekbone and eye socket.
Mr. Kindinger, who attended Thursday's sentencing with family members, said he has resumed his studies at Miami and will be a junior after this semester.
He and family members declined to comment on Mr. Cole's sentence or how the attack has affected their lives.
Mr. Cole could have received a prison sentence of two to eight years. Judge Valen said he didn't give him the maximum sentence because he pleaded guilty without a trial.
Assistant Prosecutor John M. Holcomb said he was satisfied with the sentence.
"This defendant has earned every day of the six years he'll serve in prison," he said.
Before he was sentenced, Mr. Cole apologized for the attack. "I never meant to hurt nobody," he said. "I don't know what was going through my mind. I'm sorry."
Ms. Spohn and Mr. Cole's mother, Sharon Smith, asked Judge Valen to consider Mr. Cole's troubled background and grant him some leniency. Mrs. Smith said her son has been an alcoholic and drug addict since he was 13, when his father introduced him to alcohol and drugs. She admitted that she has been a poor mother to him.
"He has been let down so much by the people he loved," Ms. Smith said. "I have changed my life. I pray I have a second chance to love my son."
"The months he has spent in prison since his arrest is the longest period he has been sober since he was 13," Ms. Spohn said.
But Judge Valen said Mr. Cole has had numerous chances to reform and has failed to do so.
"You have a lengthy juvenile record," he said. "You continued to offend again and again."
Mr. Cole's poor upbringing does not excuse the vicious attack on Mr. Kindinger, the judge said.
"I know hundreds of others in your same situation who don't commit crimes," Judge Valen said.
This case underscores the need to prevent teens from dropping out of school and running the streets, he said. Mr. Cole is a high school dropout.
Youths should be required to either be in school or in a juvenile detention facility until they're 18, Judge Valen said.
"There's no reason," he said, "someone should be allowed to drop out of the ninth grade and be put on the streets so that a college student can't walk safely on the streets of a small, provincial town."