Federal prosecutors have dropped a hate crime charge as part of a plea agreement with a Louisiana man who used Grindr as a “hunting ground” to try to kill gay men.
Instead, Chance Seneca, 21, of Lafayette, pleaded guilty on Thursday to one count of kidnapping, admitting he used the hookup app on June 20, 2020, to lure then-18-year-old Holden White to a property, handcuff him at gunpoint, strangle him until he passed out, and slit his wrists to the bone with a knife.
Upon his arrest, Seneca had told authorities he viewed Grindr as a “hunting ground” to find victims.
“The facts surrounding the events that took place in this case are very disturbing,” Western District of Louisiana US Attorney Brandon Brown said in a statement on Thursday announcing the plea deal. “It is nothing short of miraculous that the victims who endured the vicious attacks from this defendant survived.”
Seneca was originally charged in March 2021 with six federal counts that included hate crime, kidnapping, firearm, and obstruction charges — the latter because he allegedly deleted his Grindr messages with White prior to speaking to police.
In a hearing before a federal judge in Lafayette on Thursday, prosecutors agreed to dismiss the other charges after Seneca is sentenced on the kidnapping charge on Jan. 25 next year.
That charge could be enough to put Seneca behind bars for life, and under federal guidelines, the judge will be also allowed to consider the victim’s sexual orientation as an aggravating factor when handing down the decision.
Vicki Chance, a spokesperson for the US Attorney’s Office in Lafayette, told BuzzFeed News that officials were not prepared to discuss the plea negotiations until the final sentencing hearing.
“There’s a lot we can’t say out of respect to the victims,” Chance said. “As far as specifics about the plea negotiations, we’re going to be unable to give specifics at this point.”
The issue of whether to bring hate crime charges had hovered over the case since its inception. State authorities had initially upset the victim and his family by declining to bring such charges, saying there was not enough evidence.
White told the Acadiana Advocate in January 2021 that he was hoping Chance would face a hate crime charge. "He could have done this to a woman," White told the newspaper. "Instead, he chose to do something to someone who's gay and proud about his sexuality."
Just weeks later, state prosecutors filed such a charge, and the federal charges followed two months after.
Don Knecht, an official with the local district attorney’s office, told the Acadiana Advocate on Thursday that Seneca was set to enter a similar plea soon with state prosecutors. “I don’t want to let the proverbial cat out of the bag and ruin anything, but everything has been discussed while working with federal authorities and the victim,” Knecht said.
In an Instagram message after this story published, White told BuzzFeed News, "My thoughts about my case is that this is just the beginning of another long process. And just because charges are dropped doesn’t mean they can’t be brought up."
The federal kidnapping charge applied in this case because Seneca used the internet in order to kidnap his victim. “The internet should be accessible and safe for all Americans, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “The Justice Department will continue to identify and hold accountable anyone who uses online spaces as a means to terrorize or abuse others.”
In Seneca’s plea agreement, he admitted to communicating with White via Grindr and Snapchat, pretending to be interested in meeting “for recreational or romantic purposes.”
“But Seneca’s true purpose was to seize, inveigle, kidnap, abduct, and hold [White] for the unlawful purpose of killing and dismembering him for his own gratification.”
After picking White up in a car and driving him to his father’s home, Seneca took out a gun as a “dark joke” and told White to put on handcuffs. He then used a belt to strangle White from behind until White lost consciousness.
Placing White in a bathtub, he then hit him with a hammer on the back of the head and stabbed him in the neck with an ice pick, before slitting his wrists to the bone with a hunting knife.
His ultimate goal, he later told authorities, was to preserve and keep White’s body parts as mementos.
But Seneca soon lost his nerve and called 911. When authorities arrived, they discovered the grisly scene and transported White to a local hospital, where he was in a coma for three days and spent nearly a month recovering.
Seneca also admitted he’d lured another unnamed man to the same home the previous day but had decided against killing the man.
Seneca said he had slept with men and women before, but only felt a desire to kill men.
“Do you have these feelings [to murder others] with just other men? Is this—is your target men?" an investigator asked him.
“Yeah. I’ve never really wanted to hurt…women,” Seneca responded. “But..it's just mostly men.”
This story has been updated with comment from White.