The week at a glance...United States
San Jose Hate crimes: Three white San Jose State University students accused of waging a racist campaign against their black roommate were suspended last week and charged with misdemeanor hate-crime and battery charges. According to a police report, the freshmen decorated their dormitory suite with a Confederate flag, forced their roommate to wear a U-shaped bicycle lock around his neck, and called him “Three Fifths,” in reference to the constitutional provision counting slaves as three fifths of a person. An investigation was opened after the victim’s parents reported his roommates’ behavior to campus authorities. “I’m still in shock,” said the unnamed victim. “I tried not to dwell on this. But my family is upset, and I’m upset.” This week, the NAACP urged prosecutors to upgrade the charges to felony hate crimes. “This is not simple hazing or bullying,” said the Rev. Jethroe Moore II, president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP.
Birmingham, Ala. Late pardons: The final three “Scottsboro Boys” were granted posthumous pardons last week, 82 years after the group of black teenagers was falsely accused of gang-raping two white women aboard a freight train in Jackson County, Ala. The nine youths were convicted by all-white juries in 1931, and eight were sentenced to death. The U.S. Supreme Court intervened twice to overturn their convictions—first, because the accused had been denied their right to legal counsel, and then because no African-Americans had been allowed to serve as jurors on the trials. Five had their convictions dropped, and one other was pardoned in 1976. “Today is a reminder that it is never too late to right a wrong,” said state Sen. Arthur Orr. “We cannot go back in time and change the course of history, but we can change how we respond to history.”
Steubenville, Ohio New charges: A grand jury this week indicted four school employees for involvement in an alleged cover-up of the August 2012 rape of a 16-year-old girl by two high school football players. School Superintendent Mike McVey was charged with three felony counts, including tampering with evidence and obstructing justice, and a wrestling coach and an elementary school principal were charged with failing to report child abuse. Volunteer assistant football coach Matt Belardine, whose house was the scene of an underage party that preceded the assault, was charged with four misdemeanors, including allowing underage drinking. “How do you hold kids accountable if you don’t hold the adults accountable?” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, as he announced the charges. Two others were earlier indicted in the alleged cover-up, and the two former football players are currently in prison for the sexual assault.
New York City ‘Knockout’ attacks: Police in New York, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., are investigating a series of random attacks believed to be instances of the “knockout” game, in which teens apparently sucker punch strangers from behind in an attempt to knock them unconscious with a single blow. Seven alleged “knockout” incidents have occurred in New York City this fall alone; many of them were reportedly directed at Jewish people. Some law enforcement officials are skeptical that the attacks amount to a pattern, but many victims disagree. “It’s certainly happening,” said one unnamed 27-year-old who was attacked in D.C. “There is no doubt in my mind that it was intentional. This was a fist put squarely to the back of my head.”
Newtown, Conn. Lanza report: A long-awaited report on last year’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School revealed that gunman Adam Lanza had an “obsession’’ with past mass shootings, and detailed them on a spreadsheet on his computer. The report found that the 20-year-old had “significant mental health issues,” spent most of his time in a bedroom with black trash bags taped over the windows, and communicating with his mother only by email. He had a collection of violent video games, including “Left 4 Dead” and “School Shooting” that he played often, as well as photos of dead bodies and materials arguing for pedophiles’ rights. As early as the fifth grade, he wrote a book that detailed children being slaughtered and a son shooting his mother in the head. State Attorney Stephen Sedensky said that Lanza’s motive in shooting 20 children and six adults “may never be answered -conclusively.’’
Boston Chemist jailed: A former Massachusetts crime lab chemist was sentenced to three to five years in prison last week after admitting to faking forensic tests that put hundreds of people behind bars. Annie Dookhan, 36, pleaded guilty to 27 counts of tampering with evidence, perjury, and obstruction of justice. In hundreds, perhaps thousands, of criminal cases, she cut corners on the chemical testing of drug samples. As part of her “dry labbing,” said prosecutors, Dookhan would test only a fraction of a batch of samples, then list all of them as positive for illegal drugs in order to “improve her productivity and burnish her reputation.” More than 300 drug convictions from tests conducted by Dookhan from 2003 to 2012 have now been put on hold in Suffolk County, Mass., alone, and officials believe the cases of more than 40,000 defendants could be affected. Dookhan also pleaded guilty to falsely claiming she has a master’s degree in chemistry.