A Stupid Thing to Do

Was the shooting at a Santa Ana rehab center a hate crime or a fight among friends?

Photo by Matt OttoOn Feb. 23, 20 white teenagers jumped 18-year-old Rashid Alam, a Lebanese-American, near his home in Yorba Linda. Wielding baseball bats, golf clubs and beer bottles while chanting neo-Nazi slogans like "White Power!" they nearly beat Alam to death. He suffered a broken jaw; to repair his face, doctors implanted two metal plates in his cheeks.

Despite the brutal nature of the attack, Brea police hesitated to treat it as a hate crime, citing evidence that Alam and his assailants knew one another from previous confrontations. Yet Santa Ana police have shown no similar qualms in pursuing an alleged anti-Christian hate crime in which nobody was hurt and the two suspects and their intended victim were apparently friends and former band mates.

Santa Ana police arrested special-education teacher Raymond Earl Shipley, 22, of Riverside, on Feb. 6 in connection with an early-morning drive-by shooting outside Teen Challenge, a Christian drug-rehabilitation center in downtown Santa Ana (see "A Case of Morder," March 28). According to the complaint, Shipley drove the car while his passenger, Benito Ricardo Contreras, also 22, allegedly fired a 22-caliber rifle at Teen Challenge's dormitory building.

Friends of Shipley, Contreras and the alleged victim say they believe the suspects intended to vandalize the dorm building, not kill anyone. But four days after the pair's arrest, the Orange County district attorney's office charged them with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder with hate-crime enhancements that could result in life sentences.

According to Scott Ciment, Shipley's Newport Beach-based lawyer, there are two major factors in the DA's decision to file hate crime charges in the case: Teen Challenge's religious affiliation and Shipley's status as a vocalist who performed under the stage name Lord Morder in the Riverside black metal band Sol Evil. In an interview posted on the Internet, Lord Morder stated that Sol Evil's "cause is the destruction of Christianity. We want to inspire people to murder ALL Christians!!! All the members of our horde believe that Christianity must be destroyed!"

California Department of Justice spokesman Mike Van Winkle concedes that different prosecutors use different standards when it comes to charging suspects with hate crimes.

"Generally, prosecutors will charge a suspect with as many things as possible, acknowledging that many charges won't stick," Van Winkle said. "We have had cases where three synagogues were set on fire in one night, but there was no evidence of a hate crime. There has to be absolute evidence of a bias motivation."

Police have identified the alleged attempted-murder victim only as "John Doe," but friends of the suspects, including a former member of Sol Evil, say he is an ex-band member who went by the stage name Berserk. They say Berserk was once a good friend of both Shipley and Contreras and that the trio performed together in another band called Mordamon.

A Teen Challenge resident confirmed that Berserk was staying at the drug-rehabilitation facility but refused to put him on the telephone. An official with the rehab program refused to discuss the incident.

Shipley's girlfriend, Cynthia Fausto, says Shipley and Berserk met in 1999 through a mutual friend. She says Berserk met Contreras at Teen Challenge. "After a while, they all became friends," Fausto said. "Raymond wanted to start a new band, a more melodic band than Sol Evil. He came up with the name Mordamon. Mordamon consisted of Raymond as the drummer and vocalist, [Berserk] as the bassist, and Benito [Contreras] as the guitarist."

A friend of the three men, a bass player who asked to be identified by his stage name, Dark Knyght, said he joined Sol Evil when Berserk was kicked out.

"They were all really good friends, and it was my understanding that they were still friends when the incident occurred," Dark Knyght said.

He added that he believed Shipley and Contreras had no intention of murdering their former band mate but were targeting Teen Challenge itself. "It was a stupid thing to do," he said. "The way I look at it, it had nothing to do with Sol Evil, but with years of being pissed-off at Christians."

Shipley, he said, "is a Satanist. He had too much too drink, and he had just broken up with his girlfriend. I know they wouldn't have fired a shot if someone were standing out front. I still think they deserve to go to jail for doing something stupid, but not a life sentence."

 
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