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Race Crimes Make Headlines

Racially motivated violence in 1998 provokes calls for state and national hate crime legislation.

Men and women of all races were attacked and sometimes murdered in a year that underscored the pervasive nature of hate crime in America. A few of these race-motivated crimes made national headlines, while others were largely ignored by the major media.

Some of the bloodier 1998 attacks, like the particularly gruesome murders of James Byrd Jr. in Texas and Matthew Shepard in Wyoming, provoked new calls for state and national hate crime legislation, but no major new statutes were enacted during the year.

While it is not possible to know if hate crime is on the rise based on available statistics, the crimes recorded last year make it clear that tolerance in this country faces a serious challenge.

Here are some key hate crime incidents of 1998:

Feb. 15 Dark-haired Amy Robinson, 19, is abducted in Fort Worth, Texas, and killed by assailants who use her for target practice. Police charge two white men, Robert J. Neville Jr., 24, and Michael W. Hall, 18, in the murder of Robinson, who is herself white.

The two suspects shock even law enforcement authorities when interviewed by local television reporters. Hall declares that Robinson was selected "because she wasn't white. She was in between" white and black. "It was supposed to be a racial thing," Neville adds.

"We picked up a couple of guns and were going to go out and shoot black folks." Neville was found guilty of capital murder in December. Hall is to be tried this year.

Apr. 27 Two teenagers in West Palm Beach, Fla., beat a man they believe is gay into a coma outside a convenience store. After two days on life support, 29-year-old Steven Goedereis is pronounced brain-dead by medical officials.

When Bryan C. Donahue, 16, and William R. Dodge, 17, are arrested, police say that the two confess to the killing, claiming Goedereis made a pass at them. Both youths are indicted for second-degree murder.

May 15 Four men are involved in an attack on 35-year-old Mark Dale Butts, a white who is beaten to death with a shovel in a Victor, Colo., cemetery after a racially charged confrontation in a local bar.

Butts is struck as many as 50 times, so hard the shovel handle eventually breaks off. Police say the incident began when Butts refused a last drink with a black acquaintance with the comment, "I ain't drinking with no n-----."

Officials report that Andres Karpierz, the 22-year-old man to whom Butts was speaking, confesses that he decided at that moment that Butts was going to die. Jason Stapp, 20, and two teenagers, aged 16 and 17, are also charged in the murder.

May 30 Whites armed with brass knuckles and chanting "white power" attack a black Marine leaving a San Diego, Calif., party with friends. Lance Cpl. Carlos Colbert, 21, is heading for his car when as many as 30 men, some clad in biker garb, stomp on his head and break his neck, paralyzing him from the neck down.

Five men are arrested. Police find a Confederate flag stamped with "SWP," for "Supreme White Power," in the house of one of them, Tenton Joe Solis, 19.

Along with four others — Steven Lawrence Newark III, 18, Jessie Brian Lawson, 20, Jed Allen Jones, 21, and Robert Alan Rio, 23 — Solis is charged with conspiracy, assault, hate crime, torture and aggravated mayhem. The men, who face possible life terms if convicted, are to be tried early this year.

June 7 A group of white men in Jasper, Texas, abduct black hitchhiker James Byrd Jr., 49, as he walks down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, chain him by the ankles to the rear of a pickup truck and drag him several miles down a country road.

When his body is discovered the next morning, Byrd's head, with his face spray-painted black, is found along with other body parts strewn along the pavement. Police arrest Lawrence Russell Brewer, 31, and two 21-year-olds, Shawn Berry and John William King, who reportedly told his companions that "we're starting The Turner Diaries early."

The reference is to a neo-Nazi novel of race war. King and Brewer, both ex-convicts, had white supremacist tattoos on their bodies. King was convicted for murder in February and sentenced to death. A trial date for Russell and Brewer has not been set.

July 4 Anti-racist Skinheads Daniel Shersty, a 21-year-old white, and Lin Newborn, a 25-year-old black, are shot execution-style in the desert outside Las Vegas, Nev., reportedly after being lured there by two white women affiliated with racist skins.

Two months later, police arrest John Edward Butler, 26, who is linked in press reports to a neo-Nazi Skinhead group, and charge him with the murders. Authorities believe others also may have been involved in the killings, which highlight the increasingly violent split between racist and anti-racist skins.

At a December hearing, authorities report that Butler has confessed his role in the murders to a fellow prisoner. A trial is expected this year.

Aug. 10 Set off by a racially charged dispute over a television set, a group of up to 25 blacks in St. Louis, Mo., beat a 48-year-old white man to death in the street. Richard L. Skelton is left unconscious after the brawl and later dies. Police eventually arrest 11 suspects, including nine adults and two juveniles, and charge them with first-degree murder.

Oct. 2 A group of black teenagers in Buffalo, N.Y., stomp to death a 41-year-old gay white man. Witnesses tell police they saw three youths jumping high in the air in order to crush the head of Gary Trzaska with both feet.

After police arrest Dennis Straughter, 19, and William Nance, 17, in the murder, the FBI enters the case to try to determine if the attack constitutes a federal hate crime. A third attacker is believed to be still at large.

Oct. 6 Two men lure 21-year-old University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard from a Laramie tavern, crush his skull by beating him with a pistol, and leave him strung up on a rural fence outside town. Shepard, who is discovered a day later by a passing bicyclist, never regains consciousness and dies six days after the attack.

Authorities believe Shepard was targeted at least partly because he was an openly gay man. Police arrest Russell Arthur Henderson, 21, and Aaron James McKinney, 22, and prosecutors indicate they intend to seek the death penalty.

Early this year, 20-year-old Chastity Vera Pasley, Henderson's girlfriend, pleads guilty to being an accessory after the fact after being accused of helping to hide the men's bloody clothing. Kristen Leann Price also is accused of being an accessory. Trials are scheduled for Henderson on March 22 and for McKinney on Aug. 9.

Dec. 2 Two white men who police say were determined to kill an African-American shoot 38-year-old Sonya Thompson, a black woman standing outside a friend's house in Albany, N.Y. Thompson is hit by a semi-automatic 9mm rifle slug that passes through her neck, but survives.

Almost immediately after the attack, police arrest high school buddies Rudolph A. Berry and William R. Hines, both 20, and accuse them of cruising a black neighborhood intending to find and shoot a black person. After the attack, an anguished neighbor, Cheryl Martin, 51, asks a reporter, "Can't we all just get along?"