FBI still examining hatchet attack; suspect’s mental state questioned

The FBI has not yet determined whether it’s going to prosecute a February hatchet attack against a foreign exchange student as a hate crime.

The suspect, Brown County resident Dana Ericson, could face life in prison if he is tried in federal court and convicted of attempted murder with a hate crime component.

In an Indiana court, the maximum sentence on an attempted murder conviction is 40 years. Indiana is one of the few states that do not classify acts as hate crimes for criminal or sentence-enhancement purposes.

Ericson, 59, admitted to police that he struck 18-year-old Brown County High School student Zhang Yue in the back in downtown Nashville because she is Asian.

He called himself a white supremacist and told police he was attempting “ethnic cleansing.”

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.”

Ericson was charged in Brown Circuit Court on Feb. 22 with attempted murder, a Level 1 felony; aggravated battery, a Level 3 felony; and battery causing serious injury, a Level 5 felony.

He has been held in the Brown County jail since his arrest at the scene of the attack Feb. 18.

Jail commander Tony Sciscoe told the court that Ericson has been in a padded cell, wearing a suicide smock.

He has a history of violent crime and of time spent in psychiatric hospitals, according to online court records.

Sciscoe emailed the court March 4 to express concerns over Ericson’s behavior in jail.

“I feel each day he is getting worse, he is yelling out continuously and nothing he says makes sense,” Sciscoe wrote.

Ericson has not been aggressive with jail staff, he added.

On March 16, FBI Special Agent Wendy Osborne, from the Southern District of Indiana, said she cannot comment on the case beyond saying that the investigation is ongoing.

The FBI and the Brown County Sheriff’s Office continue to work on the case together, Prosecutor Ted Adams said.

“We will continue to do so until and unless the federal government files charges,” Adams said.

If a federal indictment is obtained, the prosecutor’s office would likely dismiss its case to prevent double jeopardy issues,” Adams said.

Yue has returned to school.