He wore a construction helmet that said “commie killer” as he joined in on a brutal beating in a downtown parking garage, striking the already downed DeAndre Harris with a stick until it broke as Harris struggled to pick himself up off the ground.
And though two out-of-town men already found guilty of malicious wounding for participating in the same beating have been sentenced to eight and six years in prison, this one—Daniel Borden, the Ohioan who was 18 years old when he hitched a ride to Charlottesville for the August 12 white supremacist rally—will only serve three years and 10 months.
“I absolutely don’t think my son did anything wrong,” testified his father, retired U.S. Air Force pilot Rick Borden, about the younger Borden’s involvement in what Judge Rick Moore has repeatedly referred to as “one of the worst beatings I’ve ever seen.”
The father, who started his testimony by saying he’d done “quite a bit of comprehensive investigation on this,” told the judge his son was separated from his friends when police declared an unlawful assembly and ordered everyone to leave what was then called Emancipation Park.
Borden joined another group of alt-righters and began making his way toward the Market Street Parking Garage. He picked up the stick along the way for protection, according to his dad.
“I’m not sure that I would have walked out of that park with anything other than an M1 Abrams tank,” said the father. He laughed at the mention of the “commie killer” hardhat, and said it was a reference to the film Full Metal Jacket.
“Back in the day, when I was a B-52 pilot, the Soviets were our mortal enemy,” he added.
A visibly frustrated defense attorney Mike Hallahan told the judge he was “on edge” as he questioned the elder Borden.
Judge Moore then called for a recess. As Borden’s father stood and left the witness stand for the break, he passed this reporter, who was seated in a back row. Making eye contact, he made an aggressive gesture somewhere in between starting a lawnmower and ripping apart a newspaper.
Returning to the stand, in an unusually tangential testimony, the father ranted about other aspects of August 12, including that Harris was allegedly seen throwing bottles of soda that day, and about how “antifa personnel” apparently specialize in “gang beatdowns.”
Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania noted that a lot of the testimony seemed irrelevant, but that he wasn’t objecting. “I think Mr. Borden has a lot he wants to get off his chest,” he said.
And Hallahan argued that everything is relevant.
“Everything is not relevant,” said Moore. “I’m not going to let this sentencing hearing be made about something else.”
Getting back on track, Borden’s father said his son had “tunnel vision” or “target fixation” during the attack. Said the elder Borden, “Dan has no recollection of anybody even around him. He was that full of fear and anxiety.”
But in a video taken after the parking garage beating, Platania said Borden appeared “gleeful,” and that he could be heard saying, “Fuck Antifa. Fuck communism. They got their ass kicked multiple times.”
Prosecutor Nina Antony noted that Borden was half a block away when he saw the beating and decided to join in.
Hallahan, who argued that Borden was drawn to the parking garage because one of the alt-righters was also being beaten in a separate fight, asked the judge to “take out all the drama” and “take out all the politics,” to see that this case is just about a “guy in the parking lot hitting somebody with a stick.”
And the defense attorney said that from the sounds of the video, Borden likely missed Harris with at least one of his swings.
“I don’t think that matters,” said the judge. “He kept swinging because he hadn’t done what he needed to do.”
The defendant’s mother, Kelly Borden, said she didn’t know her son had gone to Virginia for the Unite the Right rally until a friend sent her an article by civil rights activist and independent journalist Shaun King, which identified Borden as one of the men who assaulted Harris. She testified it was “fake news.”
Though Borden faced a max of 20 years in prison, the sentencing guidelines presented to the court that day suggested a year and six months on the low end and four years and two months on the high end.
His attorney recommended the lowest: “Get him out of this community. Charlottesville didn’t want him here in the first place,” Hallahan said.
Antony noted Borden’s young age, lack of criminal history, and voluntary guilty plea, but she still asked for at least the highest sentencing recommendation. She also said she was trying not to let Borden’s parents’ testimony sway her to ask for more time.
Moments before the judge pronounced the nearly four-year sentence, with 20 years of good behavior, and five years of supervised probation after release, Borden gave his own statement—one that seemed more remorseful than his parents’.
He said he cried in his dad’s kitchen when the photos of him on August 12 surfaced on the web. He had only come to town to protest the removal of the Confederate statues, he added.
“I did not know how overwhelmingly against the statues Charlottesville was,” he said. “If I did, I would have thought twice about coming.”
Though Harris wasn’t present in the courtroom, Borden had a message for him: “You didn’t deserve that.” He gave the prosecutor a personal letter that he wanted Harris to read.
He also apologized to Harris’ parents, his own parents, and the entire city.
Said Borden, “I’m truly sorry this has happened to your town.”