Hate crimes in Charlottesville---is Rev Al on the way?

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The Charlottesville Daily Progress


Two Charlottesville High School students described as leaders in a series of attacks near the University of Virginia pleaded guilty Tuesday to four felonies each, wrapping up the trial phase of a case that has drawn national publicity and intense community attention. City prosecutors said one of the teenagers, a 17-year-old girl, was involved in each of the five assaults and robberies of college students that occurred in September and January. The other, a now-18-year-old male, was involved in four of the attacks, all after CHS basketball games in January. He was 17 at the time of the last attack, on Jan. 25. Like the six city teenagers who pleaded guilty last week to involvement in the attacks, both of the teenagers Tuesday were tried as juveniles. All but one are set to be sentenced in June.

One adult, 18-year-old Gordon Lathan Fields, already had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, assault and battery by mob. The names of the others found guilty are being withheld because they are juveniles. The attacks and arrests have ignited controversy in part because of a comment police made in February that indicated several of the black suspects said the victims were chosen because they looked white.

All those found guilty, with the exception of one accessory, are black teenagers. The victims are white and Asian college students. Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Chapman said in March and reiterated Tuesday that the attackers’ motives included anger, aggression, peer pressure and resentment.

“It’s a remarkable kind of behavior that’s inexcusable and indefensible,” Chapman said after Tuesday’s hearings in Charlottesville Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. In announcing on March 28 that none of the suspects would face hate crimes charges, he said any individual racial motivation could not be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The first two January attacks took place the evening of Jan. 12. A group of the teenagers met at Kegler’s Bowling Alley after an away basketball game at Fluvanna High School. There they discussed going to UVa and beating people up on the streets, said Elizabeth V. Killeen, assistant city commonwealth’s attorney.

At around 11 p.m., UVa student Robert Bateman was walking to a friend’s house near Maury Avenue when he was attacked and beaten by three people. He was left with bruises to his ribs, cuts on his head and a swollen right eye. The 18-year-old who pleaded guilty Tuesday admitted striking Bateman, Killeen said. The teenagers, traveling in two vehicles, continued driving around while talking to each other on cell phones. They picked out a group of students near a bus stop to attack next, but the 17-year-old girl who pleaded guilty Tuesday suggested that they might be seen, so they kept driving and instead chose a group of three men on Madison Avenue, Killeen said.

About 40 minutes after the first attack, the second assault took place. One of the UVa students said he was hit by a club from behind and called an obscenity that referred to him being white. Another had his cheekbone broken in four places, Killeen said. The third student ran away, with one of the male attackers chasing him, Killeen said. Both teenagers in court Tuesday pleaded guilty to malicious wounding by mob in the second Jan. 12 attack and attempted malicious wounding in the first.

The 18-year-old said the attacks were “everyone’s idea,” the prosecutor said. But it was not the first time the girl had been involved. She also pleaded guilty Tuesday to a misdemeanor charge of accessory after the fact in connection with a Sept. 15 robbery of a UVa student as the student sat on the curb with her roommate near a sorority house early that morning. Then, on Jan. 18, the two teenagers who appeared in court Tuesday were being driven home from a basketball game at Western Albemarle High School when the 18-year-old commented that he wanted to beat up a woman, Killeen said.

After spotting a woman walking alone on Grady Avenue, he told the driver to stop and he and the 17-year-old girl got out and attacked the woman, a Piedmont Virginia Community College student. The 17-year-old hit her, called her obscenities and told her male friend to grab the woman’s purse, Killeen said.Police recovered the purse in the 17-year-old girl’s city home, search warrants indicate.

Both of the teens pleaded guilty Tuesday to robbery in that attack. The driver that night, the only white who has been charged, pleaded guilty last week to being an accessory after the fact, a misdemeanor.

None of the victims could identify their attackers, Chapman said, and investigators pieced together the assaults largely by talking to the suspects and their friends. In the final attack, on Jan. 25, a group of the teenagers was at a fast food restaurant in Greene County after a basketball game when one of the black male teenagers was called a racial epithet and was hit, Killeen said. Though that person did not become involved in the later assault near UVa, the incident set a tone for the evening, Killeen said two men involved indicated.

In the later assault, three male UVa students — one white and two Asian — were attacked on Rugby Road near Beta Bridge, with one suffering a concussion. Both of the teenagers who appeared in court Tuesday pleaded guilty to malicious wounding by mob in that attack.

Chapman said prosecutors dropped the charges against one teenager last week after new evidence indicated the teen was not culpable in the Jan. 25 attack. He would not give the gender or age of the teen. Fields also was found guilty in that attack. Killeen said at least one witness described Fields as a main participant, but Chapman has described his role as secondary and said he got involved because he thought his female friend was being attacked. On March 28, Fields received a 30-day jail sentence — which he’ll serve this summer — and 50 hours of community service for punching UVa student John Gu as many as eight times.

On April 9, three male juveniles and one female pleaded guilty to malicious wounding by mob. Another female pleaded guilty to robbery. The juveniles could face punishments ranging from jail time for anyone who has turned 18, commitment to the department of juvenile justice or supervised juvenile probation. Susan L. Whitlock, a city juvenile and domestic relations judge, accepted Tuesday’s guilty pleas from the two juveniles and set sentencing dates for June 4, the same day five of the other teenagers are set to be sentenced. Another teen’s sentencing is set for September. Prosecutors would not say what sentences they will seek.

-- (roland@hatemail.com), April 17, 2002

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