Hate Crime Laws

This comment is bubbling below, and its a question I have myself, so I thought I'd pull it out:

I have to confess that I'm a bit meh about hate crimes legislation. Matthew Shepard was murdered, after being kidnapped and beaten, etc. So, many crimes were committed. And absolutely, they were committed because he was gay. We punish the crimes of murder, kidnap, and battery. I'm sure that in Montana, the punishments are quite severe. Why isn't that enough?

I'm not engaging in rhetoric, I'd like a real answer.

The thing that made me leery of Hate Crime Law was the infamous Fat Nick case, in which a kid got 15 years for what really sounded like beef--with a quasi-ethnic twist. The victim had literally come to the neighborhood to steal a car. Read about the whole story here:

It is true that Fat Nick chased Moore through the streets that night, and after finding him hiding behind a porch set upon him with the softball bat, saying, "What up, nigga? This is what you get when you try to rob white boys." But it was also true that Glenn Moore and his two friends had come from East New York (one of Moore's friends, Richard Pope, lived there), on a failed excursion to steal a car in Lindenwood. Moreover, there had been a spat of robberies in Howard Beach in the weeks preceding Nick's attack, documented by letters to the editor of the Queens Chronicle. "Where were the press, Mayor Bloomberg, or Police Commissioner Kelley when they held my family hostage?" said Edward Benedetto, the author of such a letter, as he described being robbed at gunpoint by three black men to a Chronicle reporter after the media descended on Howard Beach.

In his confession, Fat Nick seemed accepting of the presence of black people in East New York, whereas detective D'Angelo seemed coercive, as though he had a bigger arsenal of generalizations about race at his disposal than Nick did, albeit for different purposes. In other words, it seemed possible that Nick had selected Glenn Moore because he was black, but it seemed uncertain as ever that Nick was a racist, as opposed, say, to a street punk with an anger problem who acted with the instincts of a racial profiler, and who should only have been charged with aggravated assault.

The law isn't my area, and I'd love to hear a solid defense of hate crime laws. It strikes me as weird that the mere utterance of a racial slur during a violent act automatically makes it worse.