Friday, August 31, 2001

Teen convicted of riot attack on trucker

He gets 3 years detention

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A 15-year-old Over-the-Rhine boy, the youngest person accused of serious crimes during Cincinnati's April unrest, was found guilty Thursday of five juvenile charges, including a racially motivated attack on a white truck driver during the riots.

        After emotional testimony from the truck driver, Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Sylvia Sieve Hendon sentenced the teen to serve at least three years in juvenile detention.

        “You have to pay for what you did,” she told the teen. “You have to give back to the community you took from.”

        The boy, who is not being identified because he is a juvenile, was convicted of five felonies: two counts of aggravated riot, two counts of robbery and one count of ethnic intimidation.

        During court testimony Thursday, Robert Stearns, 35, the Louisville truck driver who was pulled from his delivery van and beaten by a crowd of black youths, became visibly emotional.

        He said he thought he was going to be killed. He said his attackers shouted racial slurs as they beat him.

        “From that day on, my life has gone downhill. Everything has completely changed,” Mr. Stearns said.

        He said he has since changed jobs, taking a $35,000-a-year pay cut because he is no longer physically able to do the heavy lifting his other job required. As a result, his family will have to sell their house.

        Both he and his wife arm themselves when they go out and they are afraid to go out

        at night, he said. He has nightmares and does not sleep in the same bed with his wife because of them.

        “I really don't want to talk about this anymore,” he said tearfully.

        Earlier this month, the teen was found guilty of two other felonies — aggravated riot and robbery — for vandalizing and looting hot dog carts downtown during the unrest.

        Both a hot dog stand owner, George Psihountakis, and Mr. Stearns confronted the teen during Thursday's trial. However, neither man could positively identify him.

        The judge said she opted to find the boy guilty, not because of videotapes showing him helping to loot a hot dog stand or attacking Mr. Stearns, but because of his own admission.

        The teen admitted to police he was the person in the videos.

        The boy's mentor, Carol Adelman, described him as a caring person, who literally gave a homeless man the shoes from his feet and the food from his grocery bag.

        She said she had seen him break up fights between younger children.

        Noting Ms. Adelman's description of the teen, Mr. Stearns, in a victim statement given to Judge Hendon, asked the boy: “Why couldn't he have helped me that day?”

        The teen spoke briefly during Thursday's hearing apologizing for his actions, calling it the worst decision he could have made. He said that if he could go back and do it all over again he would do things differently.

        The judge advised him to take advantage of a program that teaches youth inmates to sympathize with their victims and understand the harm they caused.

        She also urged him to cooperate with police in order to find others who committed crimes during the riots. The teen may also have to pay more than $30,000 in restitution for damage caused by his actions.

        If the teen does not show marked accomplishment while detained, he could be confined to a juvenile detention center until he is 21, the judge said.


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