Friday, July 06, 2007

Body of attack survivor returned to Texas

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) — The body of a Hispanic teen who survived a brutal attack by a white supremacist last year but leaped to his death from a cruise ship this week was returned to Texas on Thursday.

Shortly after a Carnival Cruise Lines ship he had been aboard returned to port, David Ritcheson's body was loaded into a van and taken to the Galveston County Medical Examiner's Office, where an autopsy will be conducted.

Ritcheson's parents, who met the ship at an unidentified small port in Mexico and accompanied their son's body to Galveston, did not speak with the media after the vessel came ashore.

FBI agents boarded the ship after it returned and began interviewing passengers and the vessel's employees for an investigation into the 18-year-old's death Sunday, part of the routine when a cruise passenger dies offshore, said agency spokeswoman Shauna Dunlap.

"We're gathering evidence to determine exactly what happened," she said. "There is no indication of foul play."

Ritcheson's family attorney, Carlos Leon, said the teen went on the cruise with two friends and the parents of one of the friends. The ship left Galveston for Cozumel, Mexico, on Saturday. Early the next day, Ritcheson climbed a tower on the ship and jumped into the Gulf of Mexico after attempts to talk him down failed, witnesses and officials said.

Ritcheson, a Mexican-American, was beaten unconscious and sodomized with a plastic pole by another teen shouting "White Power!" in April 2006 at a suburban Houston home.

His attackers also stomped on him, burned him with cigarettes, cut him with a knife and poured bleach on him before leaving him for dead. It was hours before his naked body was discovered and medical help was called.

After the attack, which drew nationwide attention, Ritcheson underwent 20 to 30 surgeries. But his physical condition had been improving, Leon said. However, Ritcheson had refused to seek counseling for the emotional trauma of the attack.

Several passengers who departed the ship Thursday recalled hearing an alarm go off Sunday signaling a person had gone overboard.

Erin Weathers said she was later told by ship workers that they tried to talk Ritcheson out of jumping after he climbed a tower on the front of the vessel.

Connie Conover, from Houston, said the ship was turned around after Ritcheson jumped and it took workers about 30 minutes to recover his body from the water.

"It was very frightening. We were all wondering why he did it, what troubles he had," she said.

The attack on Ritcheson happened while he and several other teens were partying at a home in the Houston suburb of Spring, drinking and taking cocaine and Xanax. The attack was apparently triggered by Ritcheson's drunken pass toward the 12-year-old sister of one of the other teens.

David Henry Tuck and Keith Robert Turner attacked Ritcheson in an assault that continued off-and-on for hours.

Tuck, who sports racist tattoos, including a swastika, and Turner were convicted separately of aggravated sexual assault.

Tuck, then 18, was sentenced to life in prison. Turner, then 17, was sentenced to 90 years. Both are eligible for parole after 30 years.

Although Ritcheson remembered nothing of his attack, he testified about it during congressional hearings in April on a hate-crimes bill.

The legislation is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.


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