Virginia Boy's Murder Leads to Controversies With Hate Crime Laws

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - The closest thing Virginia investigators have to a suspect in the stabbing murder of a white 8-year-old boy is a black man, but a hate crime charge is not imminent unless the courts label it such, police department and city spokesmen said.

The Mayor of the city where the incident occurred admitted "elements of a hate crime" did exist, but called insinuations in a newspaper story, that police were "covering up" that information for political reasons, erroneous. A police department public information officer, meanwhile, said any decision to label the crime one of racial hatred was best left with the judicial system.

The case involves Kevin Shifflett, who was fatally stabbed April 19 in the Del Ray section of Alexandria.

According to various news accounts, city investigators received a note in late June that was found in the suspect's hotel room that said, "Kill them raceess whiate kidd's anyway." An employee of the hotel where the suspect stayed reportedly found the note, after a fire forced the evacuation of the building's residents. Police have yet to file charges of murder against the man; he remains in jail for a misdemeanor offense stemming from the hotel fire as investigators compile information linking him to Kevin Shifflett.

A police public information officer would not comment directly on the note or whether a hate-crime indictment was warranted, but said information presented in a specific Washington Post article was accurate. In that story, the content of the note was revealed, as well as summary statements from a crime scene witness who reportedly told police the killer said he hated white people just moments before he slashed Shifflett's throat.

"The [Washington Post] article, where a note in fact was found, was completely accurate," said Lt. John Crawford, a public information officer with the Alexandria Police Department.

Crawford said he could not "specifically talk about the collection of specific evidence" because of the investigative nature of the case, and that a "piece of information" found at the hotel had not yet been "analyzed."

"If it turns out to be a critical component ... that will be incorporated into the overall investigation," he continued. "We will make a determination based on our analysis, whether it will be an important piece of information."

Alexandria's mayor, however, alluded to the possibility that the note revealed a racially-based murder.

"There may be elements of a hate crime here," Mayor Kerry Donley said, "but the priority ... is making an arrest and solving the case. We'll deal with that (hate crime) if it moves into the judicial system."

Donley denied police were attempting to "cover up" a black against white hate crime for political reasons, saying investigators had been instead focusing their efforts on finding which one of the estimated 1,800 case leads would lead to an arrest.

The president of the European/American Issues Forum in San Bruno, CA, however, said the Shifflett case sounded like a cover-up. He also blamed pressure from the Clinton Administration, the US Justice Department, and various civil rights activist groups for the failure to expose racially-motivated hate crimes directed against whites.

"The responsibility with charging a hate crime does not lay with the court, it lays with the police," Lou Calabro said. "All the laws I know give that responsibility to the police. [Alexandria police Lt. John Crawford's) just brushing that off."

Calabro said police often conceal information during investigations so as not to alert any suspects, but that suspicions of hate crimes do not fall within that realm of acceptable suppression.

"If it does indicate a hate crime, they should release that to the community right away because a hate crime is not only against the individual, it is against all of society," he said.

The decision on whether to label Shifflett's murder a hate crime comes at a time when Attorney General Janet Reno is meeting with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and relatives of a hanged black Mississippi teenager to discuss whether the ruled suicide was actually a racially motivated murder.

That case involved a 17-year-old boy discovered June 16 hanging from a tree nearby his home. Autopsy findings revealed the death was a suicide, but family members demanded a federal investigation. With Jackson's help, they scheduled for Wednesday a news conference at the Capitol with Reno, a Democratic Congressman, and an attorney for the House Judiciary Committee.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations has also started investigating the matter, according to broadcast reports.