Archive for Saturday, May 24, 2003

Racial overtones colored beating

Victim of brutal March crime testifies in preliminary hearing

May 24, 2003


Josh Greemore doesn't remember the baseball bat, the stomping or the stabbing.

One moment, he was in a North Lawrence motel room with five people he met earlier in the night. He brought some beer from his nearby motel room and just wanted to "chill," he testified Friday in Douglas County District Court.

The next moment, he said, he was on the ground, outside, near some railroad tracks. His feet were bound with orange twine. It was early in the morning. He didn't know where he was.

"I couldn't get up, so I tried to crawl, but I couldn't crawl," he said. "I was cold."

More than two months have passed since the morning of March 10, when a passerby found the 21-year-old Mayetta resident wrapped in a blanket on the outskirts of Riverfront Park.

Only Friday, however, during a preliminary hearing for one of the five suspects in the attack, did details emerge about the brutality Greemore endured.

Only a robbery?

Lawrence police have repeatedly said the attack, which put Greemore in the hospital for three days and left him covered with scars, was not a hate crime.

On Friday, however, it became clear the case has a racial subtext: Greemore is an American Indian. He came to Lawrence with a friend to visit a family member who attends Haskell Indian Nations University.

At least one of the five suspects, Jeremy S. Harris, 25, is a white separatist who told police "all the races should stay with their own race," according to testimony during Harris' preliminary hearing.

Also, Harris told police someone asked Greemore that night if he was a "wetback," Lawrence Police Detective Jack Cross testified.

Officially, however, Lawrence police concluded from their investigation that the only motive for the attack was robbery.

The day after the attack, Cross and other detectives drove to Greenwood County to question Harris, who had been arrested there after police allegedly saw him and another man, Leslie T. Howe, driving a car Greemore borrowed from a friend the night of the attack.

Most of the description offered Friday of what happened to Greemore came from Cross, who testified that Harris confessed to taking part in the beating.

'Let's roll this guy'

According to Cross' testimony, Harris said he was at the Jayhawk Motel with four acquaintances: Howe, 23; Sara M. Bruce, 19; James A. Keezer, 21; and the man Harris called the "head honcho" of the group, 33-year-old Scott L. Staggs.

Police have said all five are from Emporia, but jail records indicated Harris is from Guthrie, Okla.

Cross said that during the interview Harris repeatedly used a racial slur -- "beaner" -- to refer to Greemore. Cross also said Harris told him he was a member of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang but that he was not a racist.

What follows is detective Cross' version of the statement Harris gave him:

Shortly after they checked in, two "beaners" came to the door and asked if they wanted to party. As the night went on, Greemore "became a pest," continually coming back to the room.

Greemore and Staggs began acting disrespectfully to each other, in part because Greemore wouldn't lend his cell phone to Bruce.

Finally, when Greemore went out of the room to get beer from his own room, Staggs said, "Let's roll this guy."

Greemore returned with beer. He offered one to Harris, but Harris refused, saying he didn't drink because of stomach problems.

Greemore began making fun of Harris. Harris made eye contact with Staggs.

Staggs said, "Let's do it," then got off the bed and hit Greemore in the face with an unopened beer can. Harris picked up a baseball bat and hit Greemore in the back of the head.

Keezer hit Greemore in the head with an unopened beer can. Greemore doubled over.

Harris hit him one more time in the back of the head with the baseball bat. That knocked him to the ground.

Not guilty plea

Staggs demanded that Howe join in the violence. They kicked Greemore and stomped him in the face, head and ribs.

Staggs and Harris came up with a plan to bind Greemore and leave him somewhere. The men put Greemore in the trunk of a car, and Harris and Keezer drove him to the park.

There, Harris told the detective, Keezer used a knife with a 6-inch blade to stab Greemore.

Bruce pleaded guilty earlier this week to kicking Greemore. Keezer and Howe are considering plea agreements. Staggs, who has a history of mental illness, is undergoing a mental evaluation at Larned State Security Hospital to determine whether he is competent to stand trial.

After the hearing Friday, Harris entered a formal plea of not guilty to charges of attempted murder, felony theft, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery and conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery.

His attorney, Greg Robinson, said there was insufficient evidence that Harris intended to kill Greemore.

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