Latino survivor of hate crime beating takes his own life

by Amaury Nora

If you recall, David Ritcheson was the Latino teen who was brutally beaten, tortured, and sodomized with a plastic pole by two white racist teenagers, David Henry Tuck and Keith Robert Turner. This all occurred one year ago and sadly David could no longer conceal his pain because on the morning of July 1 he leaped to his death by jumping off from an upper deck of a Carnival Cruise ship.

We really were not told much about him by the media except that he was a Mexican-American who was running back on the Klein Collins High School football team and was the homecoming prince as a freshman. Most notably people remember him as the victim of a hate crime that took place on April 22, 2006 at the home of Gus Sons that was triggered by an accusation that David tried to kiss Danielle Sons, Gus’ underage sister. What we have been told through various media outlets is that David was stomped and burned with cigarettes, and his attackers poured bleach on him before leaving him for dead. After his brutal assault he was hospitalized for more than three months and underwent 30 operations. What seems very odd is why Gus, a friend he met at Highpoint North (an alternative school where David was sent for fighting) didn’t call the police until the next day. According to Mike Trent, Assistant District Attorney for Harris County, there was more to the story than what actually was being reported by the media.

In the 2007 Jan/Feb edition of Journal of the Texas District & County Attorneys Association, Trent wrote that David and Gus, a small-time drug dealer, were already friends with Tuck and Turner and “Gus’ nickname for Tuck was ‘Skinhead David’ because of Tuck’s shaved head, bigoted views, and neo-Nazi tattoos.” The fight started when Tuck spewed his racial venom against Latina/os when he referred to them as “wetbacks.” An intense argument broke out between Tuck and Ritcheson. According to Trent (note – you will see Trent changed David’s name to Billy Reyes. This was written while David was still a minor; therefore, the name change was done in order to protect his identity. Warning: the text contains graphic details of the heinous crime):

Not long thereafter Gus discovered that his bag of narcotics, some of which he had picked up at the Crawfish Festival, was missing. Upset at the prospect of losing more than $300 worth of drugs, Gus asked Billy about them, and Billy denied stealing the drugs. A short time later, as Gus, Tuck, and Turner were smoking on the front porch, the highly inebriated Billy attempted to kiss Danielle. Danielle reported it to Gus, who then confronted Billy. Tuck accused Billy of stealing the drugs and trying to rape Danielle, both of which Billy denied. Without any further warning, Tuck slugged Billy in the face hard enough to knock him into a dog kennel. Billy just lay there, too drunk and stoned to get up. Sensing easy prey, Tuck and Turner dragged Billy into the backyard. Gus again accused Billy of kissing Danielle, hit him once in the chest, and backed off. That ended Gus’ participation but not the assault.

Tuck and Turner began kicking, beating, and stomping Billy Reyes, Tuck wearing black, steel-toe boots, one of which was emblazoned with a swastika. Yelling “Beaner!” and other racial epithets, Tuck inflicted most of the damage. After one especially vicious kick, Tuck shouted “White power!” and gave a Nazi salute. Unable to fight back or defend himself in any way, Billy just lay there and took it, mumbling and groaning occasionally. Undeterred, or more accurately encouraged by the lack of resistance, Tuck and Turner began stripping off Billy’s clothing.

“If you had any white in you, you would be helping me,” Tuck told Gus. He then pulled out a silver pocketknife. When Gus started to protest, Tuck only glared at him. “Don’t bitch out on me now,” he told the frightened Gus, and began slashing at Billy’s bare chest. He was making superficial wounds, almost as if he was trying to draw something. Detectives would later come to believe Tuck was attempting to carve a swastika.

Taking the cigarette, [Tuck] began touching the tip of it to Billy’s bare skin, burning him on the arms, legs, back, and buttocks. Turner lit up another cigarette and joined in. Finally, Turner put the cigarette out right between Billy’s eyes. Tuck chuckled, “Now he looks like a f***ing Hindu!”

Billy could no longer speak because Tuck had stomped on his throat hard enough to break one of his tracheal rings. All he could manage was a weak, agonized moan. He lay there a few feet from the patio, naked and helpless. And now it was Turner who had an idea.

[Because the article contains graphic detail, you can read this post in its entirety on my blog, ¡Para Justicia y Libertad!]

There’s more. Trent mentioned that Gus and Danielle “had not been honest with detectives initially and had minimized their own involvement in the offense.” He also mentions that during the investigation Tuck stated that Danielle Sons sexually assaulted the victim with the pipe, but due to “legal warnings” that statement was suppressed. However, there could be some amount of reality to what Tuck had said; according to Trent, Danielle was “cold and sullen” and “showed no emotion” when she was on the stand. In fact, when she was questioned on how she injured her big toe, which was noticeably bruised the next day according to witnesses, she claimed she had stubbed it on a curb.

The obvious question is what drives people like Tuck and Tuner to muster up such strong feelings of hatred towards another human being – hatred so strong that it led to an assault that was intended to strip David Ritcheson of his personal identity and degrade him into an object that could be insulted and sodomized.

Earlier this year, President Bush vowed to veto the expansion of a hate crimes bill that would have would have broadened the federal government’s authority to aid state and local law enforcement in investigating and prosecuting hate crimes motivated by race, religion, national origin and color, as well as sexual orientation, gender and disability. Bush’s reason was that his “senior advisors” (AKA James Dobson of socially conservative lobbying group Focus on the Family) felt that it would “muzzle people of faith who dare to express their moral and biblical concerns about homosexuality.” What Dobson refuses to see is that the hate crimes bill is not aimed at him and his ilk, people who enjoy spewing venom over sexual orientation or gender identity; the law is intended to go after the criminal actions motivated by this bias.

The sad truth, hate crimes are motivated by a deep hatred toward particular groups and their intent is not only to hurt their victims but also to send a powerful message of intolerance and discrimination to all members of the group to which the victim belongs. For example, Gus withheld his ethnicity from Tuck, knowing how he felt towards minorities. Without hate-crimes legislation making the connection between bias and intention explicit, many jurors will fail to equate a generalized racial/sexual/religious/disability intention to a specific hatred of an individual enemy.

Although David Ritcheson remembers nothing of his attack, he did testify about it during a congressional hearing back in April on the pending hate-crimes bill, H.R. 1592, the “Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007.”

Weeks later I recall waking up in the hospital with a myriad of emotions, including fear and uncertainty. Most of all, I felt inexplicable humiliation. Not only did I have to face my peers and my family, I had to face the fact that I had been targeted for violence in a brutal crime because of my ethnicity. This crime took place in middle-class America in the year 2006. The reality that hate is alive, strong, and thriving in the cities, towns, and cul-de-sacs of Suburbia, America was a surprise to me. America is the country I love and call home. However, the hate crime committed against me illustrates that we are still, in some aspects, a house divided. I know now that there are young people in this country who are suffering and confused, thirsting for guidance and in need of a moral compass. These are some of the many reasons I am here before you today asking that our government take the lead in deterring individuals like those who attacked me from committing unthinkable and violent crimes against others because of where they are from, the color of their skin, the God they worship, the person they love, or the way they look, talk or act.

As much as he truly wished the trauma would just go away “by not thinking about it,” the sad reality it was too much for him to bear. It might be that David was beginning to recall his horrific ordeal. Carlos Leon, the family’s attorney, told reporters that things were beginning to change over the last month or two, but declined to discuss specifics, just that David Ritcheson was starting “to externalize his pain” to his parents and other relatives.

David Ritcheson, may your soul be free of the demons that haunted you and may you finally rest in peace.

2 replies »

  1. Edmundo,

    When I see stories like this one and the story of the “Jena 6” about whom I posted, I despair that we’ll overcome the hatreds and fears that envenom people into attacking one another simply because of their differences.

    I hope David finds some rest and peace – and Tuck and Turner get punished to the maximum extent of the law.