Broward County murder will not be tried as hate crime listen10/16/09 Lisa Marzilli
WMNF Drive-Time News Friday | Listen to this entire show:
Craig Cohen was walking home from a local diner in Oakland Park, just north of Fort Lauderdale, last April when he was attacked by a group of men. He was pushed to the ground and repeatedly kicked in the head until his skull was crushed. Cohen spent the next six months in a brain damaged coma and died Oct. 7th, never having regained consciousness. The Broward County Sheriffâ€™s Office said this week it will not investigate his death as a hate crime, despite requests from the manâ€™s friends and gay rights activists.
Craig Cohen was 47 years old and openly gay. And he was not the only person attacked on April 6th. A few minutes after Cohenâ€™s attack and less than two miles away, 27 year old David Villanova was beaten and robbed by the same men. He survived his attack. He is also openly gay.
Two suspects were arrested in May in connection with the crimes. A third, just 18 years old, was arrested this week, charged with robbery and murder. But Cohenâ€™s friends and family say the charges arenâ€™t tough enough. So does Scott Hall, founder and president of Gay American Heroes, a foundation that honors the victims of hate crimes and also seeks to educate the public about a problem that Hall says claims an LGBT life every nine days. Hall said he appreciates Broward County Sheriff Al Lambertiâ€™s ongoing support of the gay community, but believes the motive behind Cohenâ€™s murder was hate, not robbery.
Cmdr. Rick Wierzbicki is with the Broward Sheriffâ€™s Office and is Chief of the Hate Crimes/Anti Bias Task Force. When asked why Cohenâ€™s personal effects werenâ€™t stolen by the suspects, Wierzbicki said it wasnâ€™t from a lack of trying.
Wierzbicki said it was a lack of evidence that prevented them from classifying the attacks on Cohen and Villanova as hate crimes.
As brutal a crime as this was, Wierzbicki said the facts of the case did not fit the criteria laid out in the hate crime statute.
Scott Hall says the Sheriffâ€™s Dept. needs to be pressured to reevaluate the case because if the brutal beating of Cohen canâ€™t be classified as a hate crime then maybe itâ€™s time to rewrite the statute.
Statistically, Broward County has the highest recorded number of hate crimes in the state. WMNF asked Cmdr. Wierzbicki why he thinks that is.
Cmdr. Wierzbicki said that now that Cohen has died, the charges against 21 yr. old Victor Gonzalez, 25 yr. old Pargu Leandro and 18 yr. Chad Olah will be the stiffest that can be levied, with or without a hate crime classification: that of 1st degree murder.
Cohenâ€™s friends have established a fund that aims to help the other victims in crimes such as Cohenâ€™s: the pets who are left behind. At the time of the attack Cohen shared his life with a dog named Eddie and 5 indoor cats, who Scott Hall said might have had to be euthanized, were it not for the â€œCraig Cohen Animal Advocacy Projectâ€. The CCAAP is part of â€œThe Pet Projectâ€ which helps people living with HIV/AIDS keep their pets by providing care and support. Although still a developing initiative, CCAAP found caring homes for all of Cohenâ€™s cats and Eddie was adopted by a neighbor. To learn more about The Craig Cohen Animal Advocacy Project go to http://www.petprojectforpets.org. For information about the Gay American Heroes Foundation visit http://www.gayamericanheroes.info.