Brutalized Teen had Drugs in System When He Jumped from Ship

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

HOUSTON — A teen who survived a gruesome racial assault and jumped to his death from a cruise ship more than a year later was under the influence of cocaine and marijuana when he died, according to toxicology reports.

The Galveston County Medical Examiner's office had earlier ruled David Ritcheson's July 1 death a suicide. Toxicology reports released Wednesday revealed the drugs in his system and showed he tested negative for alcohol.

Ritcheson, 18, had gone on a cruise to Mexico with some friends on June 30 when early the next morning he climbed a tower on the ship and jumped into the Gulf of Mexico after attempts to talk him down failed.

Carlos Leon, Ritcheson's lawyer and a family friend, said it is "not uncommon" for crime victims to turn to drugs. He said he was "disappointed, but not shocked" by the toxicology results.

"We can't forget he was an 18-year-old man," Leon said.

Ritcheson, a Mexican-American, was beaten unconscious and sodomized with a plastic pole by a teen shouting "White Power!" in April 2006 at a suburban Houston home as a group of teens partied, drank and took cocaine and Xanax.

His attackers also stomped on him, burned him with cigarettes, cut him with a knife and poured bleach on him before leaving him for dead. It was hours before his naked body was discovered and medical help was called.

The attack was apparently triggered by Ritcheson's drunken pass toward the 12-year-old sister of one of the other teens.

His attackers, David Henry Tuck, who sports racist tattoos, including a swastika, and Keith Robert Turner were convicted separately of aggravated sexual assault.

Tuck, then 18, was sentenced to life in prison. Turner, then 17, was sentenced to 90 years. Both are eligible for parole after 30 years.

The attack, which drew nationwide attention, prompted federal lawmakers to craft legislation that strengthens the nation's hate crime laws. In April, Ritcheson testified before Congress on the bill, which is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Ritcheson struggled with the physical impact of the attack, including a lengthy hospital stay and more than 30 surgeries, as well the extensive media coverage and humiliation he felt, Leon said.

Leon said he thinks "drugs enhanced whatever internal demons" Ritcheson was struggling with.

It was "mental torture" for Ritcheson to learn the details of the attack from media coverage, Leon said. But Leon said he didn't think Ritcheson planned to commit suicide. He left no note.

Leon said he believes the decision to jump was made in a matter of minutes.

"I think he had plenty of fight left," Leon said. "When you do drugs, you are at your deepest point. None of us can imagine what he went through."


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