SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A New Jersey man was convicted of false imprisonment with a hate-crime enhancement, battery and elder abuse for pulling Nobel prize-winning writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel from a hotel elevator to interview him and force him to deny the Holocaust.
The conviction stems from a Feb. 1, 2007 encounter in which Eric Hunt, 24, followed Wiesel onto an elevator in the Argent Hotel in downtown San Francisco. Hunt repeatedly demanded an interview with Wiesel and, after being refused, yanked Wiesel out of the elevator. Wiesel called for help, scaring Hunt off.
Hunt was charged with six felonies, including attempted kidnapping. Prosecutors claimed Hunt had tried to get Wiesel to renounce the Holocaust.
A San Francisco jury convicted Hunt of one felony and two misdemeanors, but dismissed felony charges of attempted kidnapping, stalking and false imprisonment of an elder. It found no evidence that Hunt was trying to kidnap Wiesel.
Hunt had followed Wiesel across the country using a $10,000 inheritance from his grandmother. He was arrested a few weeks later at a mental hospital in New Jersey, after he had posted an essay about the incident on a Holocaust denial Web site, claiming Wiesel’s 1958 memoir, “Night,” about his time spent in Nazi concentration camps, was almost entirely “fictitious.” He also called Wiesel “a genocidal liar.”
Reading the essay prompted Wiesel, now 79, to begin traveling with security.
During the nine-day trial, Hunt said he was “so humiliated” by the essay, and his attorney, John Runfola, insisted that the assault was a psychotic episode and Hunt had never had “such beliefs.”
“He’s not a Holocaust denier,” Runfola said. Runfola said Hunt has recovered from mental illness after receiving medical treatment in jail.
Hunt had previously claimed insanity, but later withdrew the plea, preventing a second trial. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 18.