Thursday, July 5, 2007

Attack Survivor Dies in Cruise Ship Jump

Survivor of Hate-Crime Attack Dies in Jump From Cruise Ship; Teen Testified Before Congress


The Associated Press, HOUSTON

David Ritcheson hated being known as "that kid" the teenager who was beaten unconscious and sodomized with a plastic pole during a party where one of his assailants shouted "White Power!" Ritcheson didn't want to stand out from his classmates because of the assault, but he acknowledged in an interview that "it was just really hard to hold your head up, even to walk outside with everyone almost in the world knowing what happened." That anguish may have contributed to his decision to leap Sunday from a cruise ship to his death in the Gulf of Mexico.
A man at Ritcheson's home who identified himself as the teen's father confirmed the death Monday to The Associated Press. He declined to give his name or comment further, saying the family would issue a statement later.

Ritcheson, 18, rarely discussed his feelings and declined to get counseling after being attacked at the drug-fueled teen party in April 2006. A year later, he testified before Congress in support of a hate crimes bill.

In an interview with the Houston Chronicle this past April, he said: "I shouldn't care what people think or say. It's just the fact that everyone knows I'm the kid. It was bigger than Houston. It was bigger than Texas. It was bigger than America. Everybody in the world knew what had happened and everybody knew the details of it."

Ritcheson, a Mexican-American, was beaten and sodomized with a patio umbrella pole. He also was stomped and burned with cigarettes, and his attackers poured bleach on him before leaving him for dead. He was hospitalized for more than three months and endured 20 to 30 operations.
On Sunday, he was pronounced dead after being pulled aboard the Ecstasy, a cruise ship en route from Galveston to Cozumel, Mexico.

A spokesman for Carnival Cruise Lines said several witnesses saw Ritcheson jump from an upper deck of the ship Sunday morning. Officials aboard the Ecstasy notified the Coast Guard before recovering Ritcheson's body.

Mike Trent, the prosecutor who handled his case, said the small, quiet youth always seemed positive and upbeat about his recovery.

"He certainly wanted to see justice done in the case and wanted his attackers punished, but I thought that considering everything that had happened to him he had come through things remarkably well," Trent said.

He said Ritcheson had used drugs before the attack but realized that played a role in his assault and promised to quit. According to testimony, the attack was triggered by Ritcheson's drunken pass at another teen's 12-year-old sister.

Ritcheson's death is "just very tragic because I thought he had turned a corner and was trying his best to make something positive out of what happened to him," Trent said. "He thought that he could handle everything on his own."

Although he remembered nothing of the four-hour attack, Ritcheson testified about it during congressional hearings in April on a hate-crimes bill. That bill passed the House and is pending in a Senate committee.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said she hopes to have the measure formally named "David's Bill" in Ritcheson's honor.

"I could not have been more moved by his commitment to getting things right," Jackson Lee said Monday. "He was able to dig deep over all of the pain and all the humiliation and try to be of help to someone else."

The Anti-Defamation League was one of several civil rights groups that organized Ritcheson's testimony.

"Our hearts go out to his family and friends, who already have endured so much pain," the ADL said Monday in a statement. "We pray the same strength, courage and dignity they displayed after David's attack will help them make it through this very difficult time."

Two men were convicted of aggravated sexual assault in the attack. David Henry Tuck, then 18, was sentenced to life in prison. Keith Robert Turner, then 17, was sentenced to 90 years in prison. Both must serve at least 30 years before being eligible for parole.

Ritcheson, Tuck, Turner and two other teens were partying at a suburban home at the time of the attack, drinking and taking cocaine and Xanax.

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