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Inmate Indicted in Hate-Crime Deaths

Law: Prosecutors say the man, jailed in Virginia in an unrelated assault case, targeted the two female hikers in 1996 because he believed they were gay.


WASHINGTON — With the filing of federal capital murder charges, law enforcement authorities said Wednesday that they had solved one of the nation's most egregious hate crimes against gays--the slayings of two young women in the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia nearly six years ago.

The deaths of Julianne Marie Williams, 24, and Laura S. Winans, 26, attracted national attention because the two women were lesbians and their bodies were found just off the Appalachian Trail, one of the most popular hiking destinations in the country.

Darrell David Rice, a Virginia prison inmate already serving time for an unrelated assault and attempted abduction of a female bicyclist in the same park, was indicted in their deaths by a federal grand jury.

Prosecutors said Rice, 34, had targeted the two hikers because he believed that they were gay. Their bodies were found June 1, 1996, beside their tent in a secluded campsite about half a mile off the trail. Their throats were slashed and their hands bound.

Rice told fellow prisoners months ago that he "hates gays" and intentionally selected women to attack "because they are more vulnerable than men," authorities said. Since then, authorities said they have built a case against Rice by collecting physical and other evidence.

Prosecutors also quoted Rice as saying that Williams and Winans "deserved to die because they were lesbian."

If convicted, he could receive the death penalty.

"It's been a long and tedious investigation," said Lawrence Berry, a spokesman for the Richmond, Va., FBI field office, which investigated the slayings with the National Park Service. "We're certainly pleased it has resulted in an indictment."

Case 'a Sad Reminder' of Violence, Group Says

The case was heard by a federal grand jury because the slayings took place in a national park.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which had urged a full investigation of the slayings in 1996, expressed relief at "closure" of the case but said it was "a sad reminder" of the pervasiveness of violence against gays.

Overall, reports of hate crimes against lesbians have increased in recent years, according to FBI statistics, from 146 incidents in 1995 to 181 in 2000--a 24% increase.

Williams' parents, Tom and Patsy Williams of St. Cloud, Minn., said they were "grateful that a suspect has been apprehended and indicted." They said, however, that they prefer to focus on the memory of their daughter's life.

The women, both experienced hikers, had worked as interns for Woodswomen Inc., a Minneapolis-based group providing outdoor adventure and education programs for women.

Williams had graduated summa cum laude from Carleton College in Minnesota, and Winans was finishing a degree at Unity College in Maine. Friends said Winans had been developing a program to help victims of sexual abuse find healing in the outdoors.

Attorney General Announces Indictment

Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft, who announced Rice's indictment, said that the women's slayings denied the world their budding talents, "which would have been substantial."

"These families have suffered what Americans now know all too well--the pain and destruction wrought by hate," Ashcroft told a news conference.

"The volatile, poisonous mixture of hatred and violence will not go unchallenged in the American system of justice," Ashcroft said after meeting with relatives of the victims.

Rice, an inmate in the federal prison in Petersburg, Va., was charged in a four-count indictment with capital murder and with "intentionally selecting and murdering the two young women because of his hatred of women and homosexuals."

U.S. Atty. John L. Brownlee of the Western District of Virginia said the slayings were "part of an ongoing plan, scheme or modus operandi to assault, intimidate, injure and kill women because of their gender."

After his arrest in the 1997 case for which Rice is now serving time, investigators discovered hand and leg restraints in his truck similar to those found on the hikers' bodies.

Officials declined Wednesday to discuss why the case had not been solved sooner.

As officials tracked down more than 15,000 tips and leads in the hikers' case, Rice made relevant comments in prison that "indicated that he may have been involved," Brownlee said.

Officials said they also had evidence of Rice's "numerous physical and verbal assaults upon randomly selected women, including . . . acts of road rage, physical assaults, demeaning sexual comments and threats of injury and death."

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