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Man Convicted in Noose Attack Sentenced to Write Black History Essay

By  Erin Meyer and Darryl Holliday | February 27, 2013 1:29pm | Updated on February 27, 2013 6:52pm

BEVERLY — An Alsip man who pleaded guilty to putting a noose around a black teen's neck was ordered by a judge to write an essay about the history of blacks being lynched in America.

Matthew Herrmann, 19, was originally charged with felonies — including hate crime — for the racially charged attack.

He and two other white teens were accused of luring the victim — a student at Brother Rice High School — to one of their Beverly homes in the 1600 block of West 100th Place on Dec. 23, 2011.

When the victim, 17-year-old Joshua Merritt, got there, he was restrained, called the N-word and threatened with death, authorities said.

The three teens also put a noose around his neck. The teens were angry about Merritt's relationship with one of their female cousins, police said.

The two other teens were charged as juveniles.

Herrmann pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor — and was sentenced to two years probation.

But the judge didn't leave it at that.

He also ordered the teen to pen an essay on "the history and practice of lynching African-Americans in this country," according to the Cook County State's Attorney's Office.

Since the incident, Merritt's father, William Merritt, said his son sees a professional therapist once a week due the trauma he experienced.

"This has changed his whole life," he said. "The way he looks at people, the way he tries to make friends — that changes a teen."

According to William Merritt, initial resistance from lower-level police officers to bring charges on the case hindered the its long-term integrity.

"If I want to file charges it shouldn't take two to three weeks," he said, noting that during the incident in which the younger Merritt was surrounded by Herrmann and others, a knife was put to his neck in addition to the noose.

"They should have filed it right away," he said.

While William Merritt said the ruling was "the best outcome" for how the case was presented, he likened Herrmann's sentence of writing an essay to a homework assignment.

"[Herrmann] is immature, even now," he said, of his son's friend. 

The two teens had participated in an anime club together in school and had been friends for around three years, according to William Merritt.

The young men involved in the incident had also engaged in a program called a "peace circle" after the incident, according to William Merritt, during which Herrmann continued to display a lack of understanding regarding his actions.

"You have to look at it as them being teens and not understanding the history behind what they had done," he said of the young men. "Maybe if they had learned more in school they would understand the level of their behavior."

Outside court, Herrmann said that while he and the victim are no longer friends, the two were able to make amends through the peace circle commonly used in juvenile court to help settle disputes without jail time.

He left the Cook County Criminal Courthouse Wednesday with his mother, glad to leave an ugly chapter of his life behind him.

"I've learned the justice system is fair," said Herrmann, who turns 20 on Thursday.

Herrmann was ecstatic to escape with just probation and no felony conviction.

"I have to write an essay, too," said Herrmann, who has shaved his beard and trimmed his long hair since his arrest. "No jail."