An elderly man who was receiving treatment for COVID-19 was severely beaten and killed by a fellow patient simply for praying.
The unnamed Hispanic man, aged 82, was receiving treatment at the Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster, California, for his COVID-19 infection, KABC reported. He was placed inside the same room as 37-year-old Jesse Martinez, who was also being treated for the coronavirus.
The elderly man, who was Catholic, as per the Los Angeles Times, agitated his fellow patient when he started to pray, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Homicide Bureau said. Martinez struck him with an oxygen tank as he was praying.
"The suspect became upset when the victim started to pray. He then struck the victim with an oxygen tank," the Sheriff's Department said.
The initial assault happened inside the two-person room inside the hospital on Thursday, Dec. 17, at approximately 9:45 a.m. The victim eventually succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced as "deceased" the following day, Friday, Dec. 18, at approximately 10:20 a.m. - just a little over 24 hours since the attack.
The victim and the suspect did not personally know each other prior to their admission to the hospital, the Sheriff's Department said. The victim's name is currently withheld by the authorities, pending notification of his relatives.
Martinez, the suspect, was arrested immediately on the day he attacked the 82-year-old man, Lt. Brandon Dean, a spokesman with the Sheriff's Department said. He is facing charges of murder, a hate crime enhancement, and elder or dependent abuse resulting in death.
Martinez is currently in prison in lieu of a bail set at $1,000,000. He is set to be arraigned Monday, Dec. 28, at the Lancaster Courthouse. It was not immediately known if he has a lawyer who could speak for him.
Martinez could face up to 28 years in state prison if he is convicted as charged.
Experts told KABC that the hospital could only do so much to prevent the crime from happening. This is because hospital staff are "stretched thin," and because staffers and security are hindered by COVID-19 from rushing quickly into the patients' room to respond.
Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris, in a statement, said he was "shocked and saddened" by the news of the incident.
"These families were already experiencing a hardship and now this - it's senseless," he said.
There has been an increase in the number of hate crimes committed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic which began in Wuhan, China. The incident at Antelope Valley Hospital is but one such case.
The United Nations, in a document, said "unfortunately, the pandemic has also given rise to a new wave of hate hate speech and discrimination."
Home security company SafeWise noted that, according to the Los Angeles Police Department's records, while crime generally dropped year-on-year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of reported homicide cases actually increased by almost 25% compared to the previous year.
More recently, there have been 25 reported homicide cases between Nov. 15 and Dec. 12 - a 38.1% increase compared to the 21 homicides recorded between Oct. 18 and Nov. 14, 2020.