A former soldier has been sentenced to 55 years in prison for the “road rage” killing of a Muslim man after witnesses testified he hurled ethnic and religious insults at his victim.
Dustin Passarelli was found guilty of murder in May, four years after shooting dead 32-year-old Mustafa Ayoubi, an Afghan-American, by the side of the road in the northwest of Indianapolis.
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Passarelli followed Ayoubi off the main Interstate 465 and a verbal altercation took place, prosecutors said. Witnesses at the scene said Passarelli made several Islamophobic slurs and yelled “Go back to your country” at Ayoubi before opening fire.
The case drew the attention of the FBI and took place as legislators in the state of Indiana were debating new hate crime legislation. The bill was watered down, however, with a “bias crimes” law passed six weeks later that some have argued is ineffectual in hate crimes.
Passarelli, who was not charged with a hate crime or in a federal court, told police that he followed Ayoubi off the highway to an apartment complex and shot him in self-defence after Ayoubi allegedly tried to punch one of his car windows. He also claimed to have PTSD from his time in the army.
The autopsy showed Ayoubi had been shot eight times – once in the shoulder from the front and seven times in the back, according to local media reports. Police found no evidence of damage to Passarelli’s car.
Ayoubi had made his life in the United States after arriving from Afghanistan as a refugee.
After the jury found Passarelli guilty, Ayoubi’s sister Zahra, said justice had been served. She had previously described him to Al Jazeera as “kind, caring and very smart” and a “rock” for his mother.
“A soul so bright, cut short by hate, in the depths of night. He was more than a victim, he was a flame, he stood and put hate to shame,” Zahra wrote on Twitter.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the United States’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organisation, said it received 5,156 complaints about Islamophobia in 2022, a 23 percent decrease from the previous year.
It is the first recorded decline since we started tracking such data in 1995.