Dana Ericson could be facing life in prison.

Brown County Prosecutor Ted Adams said the Federal Bureau of Investigation has opened a civil rights case related to the assault of Zhang Yue.

Ericson, 59, of Nashville, told police he attacked the Chinese foreign exchange student with a hatchet in downtown Nashville Feb. 18 because she is Asian.

Indiana is one of the few states that do not recognize or classify criminal acts as hate crimes for criminal or sentence enhancement purposes. But federal statutes do.

The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole, or in part, by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity.”

If a federal indictment is obtained, “the Brown County Prosecutor’s Office would likely dismiss to prevent double jeopardy issues,” Adams said in a press release today. “The matter would move forward in federal court at that time and the defendant would be transferred into federal custody.”

The maximum sentence on an attempted murder conviction in Indiana is 40 years.

The maximum sentence for attempted murder with a hate crime component under federal law is life in prison.

Read background on this case under the “hatchet attack” tab below.

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.