Thursday, March 11, 2004

About a month ago, Domingo Lopez-Vargas and Carlos Perez were robbed and beaten by several white men; several high school students have been arrested for the crimes:

The boys bragged about the assaults at school, said Assistant Police Chief Jeff Lance. And the usual motives for the robberies don't seem to apply, he said.
"They didn't need the money," Lance said, "and we don't think drugs were involved."
The first attack occurred Feb. 2. Carlos Perez, 22, told police he was walking on Hickory Flat Highway when three white men in a white Ford Expedition stopped and said they needed some work done in Waleska.
He climbed in and was taken to an abandoned house near the Canton Wal-Mart, where the men beat him with their fists and a metal pipe, Perez said.
When they demanded money, Perez said, he threw them his wallet. They took $300 from the wallet and left.
Perez walked to the Wal-Mart and called friend to pick him up. He was having trouble breathing and called Cherokee County EMS, which took him to Northside Cherokee Hospital for treatment.
The second attack occurred the following day.
Lopez, 54, told investigators he went to the Canton Village Shopping Center to buy groceries. When he came out of the store, four white men in a green pickup truck approached him and asked him if he wanted some work.
He doesn't speak English, he said, but he knows a few words, "work" being one of them.
The men, Lopez said, took him to a deserted part of town. Two men stayed with the truck, and after a short walk, one of the other men suddenly picked up a stick and whacked Lopez on the leg, knocking him down.
He threw up an arm to ward off another blow. The man also struck him on the back.
The other man said another word Lopez understood: "Money." He gave that man his wallet. The robber also took the gold chain Lopez was wearing on his neck.
The two men walked back to the truck and drove away, leaving Lopez behind.
When Lopez made it back out to the street, he saw some people standing there and asked them for help. They called an ambulance, which took him to Northside Cherokee Hospital, where he was treated for cuts and scrapes.
Ten days after he was attacked, his bruises still vivid and sore, Lopez seemed more bewildered than outraged. Nothing like this has ever happened before, he said.
On Friday, Lopez sat in the kitchen of the sparsely furnished house he shares in Canton with six other Guatemalans.
He smiled nervously and talked softly as he described his life in the United States.
He first came to this country in 1988. Despite all that time he has spent in the United States, Lopez hasn't learned to speak English. He doesn't need to, he said, because everyone where he works speaks Spanish.
The doctors at the hospital told Lopez it would be five weeks before he can go back to work. There's no income until then. There's no insurance to pay the hospital bill that he knows is coming.
He's being helped by his housemates who see that he doesn't starve, but beyond that there isn't much he can do.
He wishes "the men in jail would pay back what they took and for the days I haven't worked."
In the meantime, "Aguanto," he said.
"I cope."

The prosecutor and two judges have since recused themselves from the case. Why?

Saying they were exercising "an abundance of caution," Judges Frank C. Mills III and N. Jackson Harris have signed orders requesting that a visiting judge hear the cases against Ben Cagle, Kenneth Beavers, Chad Whetherington and Devin Wheeling, all 18. Brian Cowart, 16, is charged as a juvenile.
The judges cited no specific reason for removing themselves, and neither responded on Tuesday to requests for interviews about their decision, which was written as a court order on Feb. 27 and filed Friday with the district attorney's office.
In 2003, Scott Cagle, an uncle of Ben Cagle's, made a $400 campaign contribution to Mills, according to campaign disclosure reports.
When District Attorney Garry Moss removed his office as prosecutor three weeks ago, he said it was because of his acquaintance with members of Ben Cagle's extended family. Ben Cagle's grandparents are founding members of Cherokee's Republican Party and remain active in civic and cultural affairs. . . .
Cagle is the only one out of jail on bond, set at $100,000. He is under house arrest, allowed to leave only to work at his uncles' dairy and attend church on Sunday.
Bond has been set for Beavers at $10,000 and for Cowart at $80,000. Both would be under house arrest if they are released.

Meanwhile, Wheeling and two others have been accused of another robbery and beating:

Devin Wheeling, 18, along with Joshua Oberly, 17, and Bryan Phillips, 19, has been charged with aggravated assault and armed robbery in the Nov. 14 attack.
In that incident, Elias Tiu, 22, was walking with a friend in downtown Canton around 10 p.m. when they were approached by several young men. The friend ran away but Tiu told police he was robbed of $480. . . .
Wheeling has told police the teens targeted Hispanics because they typically carried cash and were unlikely to contact police.

The state has yet to decide whether to prosecute these as hate crimes.