Suspects struggled with identities, emotions
2 suburban teens at center of brutal pipe-beating case
By BILL MURPHY
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle
They met at the Crawfish Festival in Old Town Spring on a Friday night, nothing out of the ordinary for groups of teenagers in the suburbs on a weekend.
But this gathering included David Tuck and his longtime buddy Keith Turner, and that always carried the potential for disaster.
Turner, a troubled 17-year-old with a big mouth and a hair-trigger temper, had a drug problem and was prone to challenge people to fights.
And even those who counted 18-year-old Tuck as a friend knew they needed to be on guard around him, needed to gauge his state of mind. Would Tuck give them a laid-back "wazzup," or would he slip into his violent or intolerant skinhead mode?
On that particular April night, when Turner, Tuck and a 15-year-old girl named Holly met up at the Laser Rage with Gus Sons and his Hispanic friend, things seemed cool.
Tuck "didn't start any crap or anything," said Holly, who asked that her family name not be used.
The group passed the evening uneventfully. They later stood by a store, looking like any other youths waiting for relatives to pick them up and schlep them elsewhere.
For Turner, Sons and his 17-year-old friend, the choice was to head to Sons' home in Spring and party. Initially, Tuck declined the invitation, but he hastily changed his mind as Sons' mom pulled up to give her son and friends a ride.
Within hours, for reasons still not absolutely clear, the night turned ugly and violent. The Hispanic youth ended up unconscious, naked and near death in Sons' backyard, sexually assaulted with a plastic pipe, burned by cigarettes, his face beaten nearly beyond recognition.
Tuck and Turner found themselves charged with aggravated sexual assault and facing up to life in prison.
Those who knew Tuck
Chelsea Pasquill, 21, thought that her friend David Tuck had figured out how to keep his emotions in check.
So did Pasquill's sister, 15-year-old Andrea Sulak, who continued to view him as the friendly neighborhood boy who had played with her at a Forest North subdivision pool years ago.
So, too, did Holly's 20-year-old sister, Amanda, who thought Tuck was maturing.
They all knew what would happen to him if he continued to see challenges and confrontations where others saw none. They also knew that after numerous encounters with the juvenile justice system, his next misstep could land him in an adult jail.
After his latest release from juvenile detention, an unofficial support group of girls and young women began to look out for Tuck, a handsome, fair-skinned youth with thick forearms and a solid frame that has yet to fill out.
Where others saw only a potential source of trouble, they saw promise.
They took his calls when he was feeling lonely and down. They listened when he had been drinking and was feeling like he might do something crazy. They watched TV with him until his demons went away or his anger passed. They watched over him, hoping to impart a modicum of tolerance to someone ideologically opposed to the concept.
They thought they were making progress.
"I thought he was maturing and changing," Pasquill said.
Tuck's life at home
Tuck's parents, Sherri and Henry "Butch" Tuck, divorced when David was 1. While raising her three children, Sherri Tuck often worked the second shift at a restaurant, sometimes sleeping late the next day. She wasn't always on hand to supervise her kids.
Butch Tuck saw David every other weekend, at most. The boy had few good role models. Into this vacuum stepped Sammy Bohanon, a half-brother 11 years his senior.
As an older teen, Bohanon dabbled in Satanism, but he ultimately settled on neo-Nazi beliefs after reading Hitler's Mein Kampf, Butch Tuck said.
Through the years, Bohanon flitted among several skinhead groups, including the Hammerskins and the Aryan Circle, said Butch Tuck and Fred Lee, stepfather of Bohanon's former girlfriend, Nichole Perkins.
Bohanon's skinhead friends became Tuck's friends. Some lived off and on in the Tucks' one-story, modest home on Nutwood in Spring's Forest North subdivision, a few miles west of Interstate 45, where they often partied. Bohanon liked to hold forth after getting a few drinks in him.
"He wanted to sit there and talk about Hitler being a religious leader," Lee said. "All he wanted to do was get up on a soapbox and preach. Tuck would just preach what Sammy taught him."
Bohanon, now 29, had an odd, disturbing appearance then. Hitler's face was tattooed on his chest, and he had other skinhead tattoos on his body.
Not only did he sport the bald dome favored by skinheads, he also shaved his eyebrows. He gave Amanda and others the creeps, in part, by cultivating the perception that he was unpredictable.
Once when she, her then common-law husband, Mark Smith, and others were partying, Bohanon picked up her pet iguana and stuck the reptile's head in his mouth. Amanda was stunned even though he didn't hurt the creature.
Butch Tuck and his second wife, Kathey, unsuccessfully tried to combat Bohanon's influence when the younger Tuck visited them on weekends at their north Houston home.
Kathey Tuck taught her stepson Bible stories and once gave him a crucifix. He told her how it came to be mistreated after he took it home. "Sammy broke the head off on purpose," she said.
In time, Tuck's visits to his father's home became less frequent. He preferred the unstructured environment of his mother's home.
"He would not come have a life with me because there's a set of rules to live by here," said Butch Tuck, a line worker in a jet-parts factory.
Even though some had a low opinion of his half-brother, Tuck admired him.
"He was brainwashed," Lee said. "He thought his big brother was God. David is really a victim of Sammy."
At Klein Collins High and out on the street, Keith Turner was hard not to notice. He moved, talked and dressed like a rapper or a gang member.
Kids at Klein Collins have a name for white guys like him — "wiggers," said Paige Strother, 15, who dated him two years ago.
He dressed the part as well, wearing T-shirts and black baggy pants or shorts that he allowed to ride far below his waist. He favored rap music.
Privately, Strother and her friends viewed Turner's mannerisms as a bit of a joke.
For Turner, playing the role of a wigger also meant acting menacing. He isn't a big fellow, but he has a big mouth, frequently confronting others with a barrage of call-the-other-guy's-bluff street patter.
"He would like to start stuff all the time if he didn't like the look you were giving him," said Eddie Sulak, 17, a Klein Collins student who knew Turner. "He was always starting a fight."
Turner grew up in a long, two-family, white-shingle house on Stargrass, a street near Forest North and Dovemeadows, the subdivision where Gus Sons lived.
The yard is shaded by tall trees. Beneath them sits a statue of St. Francis of Assisi. Water gurgles in a small fountain. His grandmother lives next door.
Turner and Tuck became friends while attending Schindewolf Intermediate School, part of the Klein Independent School District.
Back then, Tuck shared Turner's admiration for rappers. A photo of Tupac Shakur hung on Tuck's bedroom wall, and Tuck talked like a rapper, said Jessica Skains, 17, his former girlfriend.
Tuck "used to try to be ghetto," said Skains, who became his girlfriend when they were in the seventh grade and didn't break up with him until early 2005. "When he was younger, he didn't have a problem with other races."
Despite being bombarded with anti-drug messages at school, Turner began experimenting with marijuana when he was about 11, Skains and others said.
He was soon hanging out with pink- and purple-haired Goths and other disaffected youth — and taking more potent drugs. Xanax, an anti-depressant known on the street as "bars," became his drug of choice.
He was arrested several times and served time in a juvenile detention facility. Every time he was arrested, he was high on Xanax, Skains and others said.
Turner received counseling, was put on medication and went into a rehabilitation facility, all to no avail.
"In recent years, Keith has had problems with drugs and violence," his parents said in a statement released after his most recent arrest. "The unfortunate outcome is that he continued to make bad choices."
At times, Turner's combative tendencies became too much even for Tuck, his bigger and stronger friend who would sometimes tell him to lay off somebody and chill out. And even though Turner counted minorities among his close friends, he sometimes would express racist views in Tuck's presence.
"Keith has never really known who he is," Skains said. "Sometimes he is a white supremacist. Sometimes he is a wigger. It all depends on who he is hanging out with."
What neighbors say
For years, Tuck's home on Nutwood was seen by deputies in the Precinct 4 constable's office as a potential spot for major trouble.
Neighbors felt intimidated when Bohanon, Tuck and other skinheads, drunk or high on something, would yell neo-Nazi slogans or racist comments at those walking or driving by.
Jay Sutton, who lives down the street from the Tucks and counts blacks among his friends, said Bohanon would drive by and yell insults out the window.
Precinct 4 deputies were in a bind. They wanted to avoid ordering Bohanon, Tuck and their friends to stop voicing their skinhead views because that could be construed as stepping on First Amendment rights. On the other hand, the skinheads were provoking neighbors.
Often, it was their hair-trigger tempers, not their racist vitriol, that landed Bohanon and his friends in trouble. They could and would turn on anyone regardless of race.
Five years ago, James Preece and his stepson, who are both white, felt they had to take a stand against some of the skinheads outside their Forest North home. Bohanon and a fellow skinhead, Jeremy Klintman, were walking down the street, drinking beer. Preece's wife and stepson were in their front yard. Bohanon and Klintman approached them, cursing and threatening them, a police report said.
Coming out of his garage, Preece ordered the pair off his property. Klintman threatened to kill him and his family; Preece punched him in the head. Bohanon whipped out a knife.
Preece's stepson grabbed a baseball bat from the garage, and Bohanon and Klintman retreated but later came back, each with a baseball bat. Deputies arrived before the confrontation could escalate.
Bohanon was charged with aggravated assault. Klintman was charged with making a terroristic threat.
Bohanon's rage was sometimes directed at friends and relatives.
Two years ago, he turned on Nichole Perkins, an estranged girlfriend nine years his junior who had come under his influence and lived with him for a while at the house on Nutwood.
He hadn't taken it well when their relationship soured and she moved out. He took to drinking more than usual and found solace in sad country and western music, which made him weep.
She made the mistake of going to the house to pick up something March 20, 2004, thinking he wasn't there.
But he was. They argued. Bohanon turned violent. He punched her in the face, head and back. He kicked her in the legs and spit in her face, according to a Precinct 4 constable's report. Before she could leave, he smashed her car's rear window and a side window.
He left her a phone message, saying that her mother and grandmother "are going to suffer a Doc Martin dental plan," the report said. Perkins "explained that a Doc Martin dental plan is where he would kick them in the mouth with his steel-toed boots."
Since 1996, Bohanon has been arrested more than 20 times in Harris and Montgomery counties. He has been charged with assault six times and with drunken driving and burglary.
He is serving a 28-month state prison sentence at the Dominguez unit in San Antonio for retaliation and assaulting Perkins.
Tuck in transition
In his high school years, David Tuck put away his Tupac CDs and started playing metal and punk music by Skrewdriver, the Bully Boys and other bands that promoted white-supremacist ideology or are associated with it.
He became increasingly violent, clearly influenced by Bohanon and his skinhead friends. He landed in juvenile lockups at least three times.
Once when he was drunk at a party, he became angry at a girl because she was criticizing his girlfriend at the time, Jessica Skains.
Tuck sought revenge by cutting the girl's hair with a knife. When she resisted, the knife point sank into one of her arms, causing a deep cut. She was stitched up at a hospital.
Tuck said the stabbing was accidental. A judge put him in a juvenile detention facility nonetheless, Tuck's father said.
After he was sent away for the stabbing, Skains remained loyal to Tuck and waited for him to be released.
A tall, willowy and pretty teen who is part Native American, Skains became an early member of Tuck's female support group. She disagreed with his skinhead beliefs and would tell him so. He would listen to her and sometimes calm down. But he would not be swayed by her views.
It wasn't long before Tuck's temper and skinhead beliefs landed him in juvenile court again.
In January 2003, according to police records, he was at home hanging out with skinhead buddies Mark Smith and Charles Douglas Brannan, 23, of Hockley, swapping white-supremacist views.
They headed to a convenience store on Spring Stuebner near Forest North. Brannan spotted a middle-aged Hispanic man pumping gas outside the store.
He attacked the man. Smith and Tuck later joined the fray, and the man was beaten unconscious. One or more of the attackers shouted "dirty Mexican," "border jumper," "****" and "we kill people like you."
Tuck was arrested after he told deputies that he had kicked the man.
Brannan and Smith are serving time in federal prisons for their part in the civil rights crime. They pleaded guilty last year to using force to intimidate and interfere with the man's right to use a public accommodation because of his race, color or national origin.
It is not clear exactly how Tuck's case was adjudicated, although Skains, his father and others say he served time in juvenile detention for that or some other incident.
When he was released, he still had a hair-trigger temper.
While walking near his home, he encountered a minority child. He struck or head-butted the youth, his father and Skains said.
When deputies came to arrest him, he kicked an officer trying to put him in a cruiser. Instead of being charged with attacking the youth, Tuck was charged with assaulting a peace officer.
This time, he didn't serve his sentence at a county juvenile detention facility. He was sent to a Texas Youth Commission lockup, where more serious offenders are held.
He was released in February or March.
The scene of the crime
Gus Sons and his family lived in a rental home on Glenbranch in Dovemeadows, a subdivision of mostly newer and sometimes bigger homes than those found in nearby Forest North.
It was there that Tuck, Turner, Sons and the 17-year-old Hispanic boy gathered in April after meeting at the Crawfish Festival in Old Town Spring.
Much of what happened that night is still unclear. But left to their own devices, the teenagers did some serious partying that, fueled by drugs and liquor, spiraled into violence.
What sparked it is a matter of some dispute, but police think that, in part, it began with a kiss.
The 17-year-old victim kissed or tried to kiss Sons' 12-year-old sister, Danielle, authorities said. Showing no mercy, they said, Tuck and Turner went to work on the youth.
They punched and kicked him, with Tuck allegedly delivering damaging blows to the head with his steel-toed boots. The youth was stripped and burned with cigarettes. Bleach may have been poured on him, possibly to cover up evidence.
His skin on his chest was cut with a knife, and police are investigating whether these wounds were a failed attempt to carve a swastika.
Turner put a plastic pipe used to hold a patio umbrella in the teen's rectum, and Tuck kicked it up inside him, damaging his internal organs, authorities have said.
At least one of the suspects allegedly shouted ethnic slurs during the beating.
After they were done, they let him lie naked on his back in Sons' backyard for as long as six or seven hours.
Sons' mother called 911 at 9:49 a.m. April 23, authorities said. She apparently slept through the attack and didn't discover the traumatically injured youth until her son went out to feed the dogs.
In his only interview after his arrest, Tuck told a local television station that he was high on vodka, Xanax, cocaine and marijuana.
He and Turner were told the 12-year-old had been raped, not merely kissed, Tuck told KTRK.
"When you tell people who are on drugs something like that, you're going to fight," Tuck said. "Xanax to me is like a demon. It takes control of me."
Carlos Leon, the victim's lawyer, said he has no idea whether his client tried to kiss the girl or pocketed drugs, as has been alleged. Regardless, nothing would justify brutalizing his client the way he was, Leon said.
The boy, who is not being named since he was the victim of a sexual assault, has come a long way since he was found unconscious in Gus Sons' backyard.
He wasn't expected to survive the attack. Now, he has begun to make gains toward at least a limited recovery.
He remains at Memorial Hermann Hospital, where he recently began to walk short distances, Leon said. A tracheotomy tube, which prevented him from talking, has been removed. He can now talk but not well. He does not remember being assaulted.
Although he was kicked in the head with steel-toed boots, he does not appear to have suffered brain damage. He continues to undergo surgeries to repair damage to his internal organs and has begun rehabilitation to regain basic physical skills.
"If this had happened to someone my age, I'd be dead," said Leon, 37. "It happened to a pretty strong 17-year-old kid. That's why he's improving."
In late May, Turner and Tuck were indicted on a charge of aggravated sexual assault, for which they face up to life in prison if convicted.
The crime was so horrific that it spurred local minority leaders, the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens to call for changes in state and federal hate-crime laws. The FBI said the current federal hate-crime law does not apply to crimes at a private home, only to discriminatory acts in public settings.
Prosecutors remain unsure whether the beating, as despicable as it was, constitutes a hate crime under Texas law.
Harris County Assistant District Attorney Mike Trent said the victim's ethnicity may not have motivated Turner and Tuck to begin assaulting him, but it may have caused them to beat him more severely.
Trent knows that some say the victim pocketed drugs and that the attack might not be a hate crime if Tuck and Turner were angry over such an act.
"I am aware of these rumors but have no evidence confirming or dispelling them," Trent said.
It also would undermine the hate-crime theory if Sons threw the first punch at the victim, another theory that has been investigated. Trent would not discuss who threw the first punch.
He also pointed out that Tuck and Turner were charged with aggravated sexual assault, not assault — the type of charge that could be brought against somebody who punched the victim.
Even if he continues to recover, the victim will never be the same, his mother has said. His parents and siblings have been devastated by the attack.
The attack has brought deep shame on Tuck's relatives who never shared his and Bohanon's ideology.
"Everybody is saying in the press, 'The Tuck family, they're a Klan gang.' That's a bunch of b.s.," said Tuck's father, Butch. "I thought I knew what it meant to be humiliated. But I've never really known what it meant to be humiliated until now."
The crime still weighs heavily in Spring. During a homeowners association meeting several weeks after the beating, Dovemeadows residents lamented how such a crime could have happened in their neighborhood.
But they would be surprised to learn how pervasive drug use is among some high school students and how much simmers beneath the surface in the area's seemingly boring, idyllic subdivisions, said Paige Strother, who dated Turner two years ago.
"There's always something going on," she said. "It's not as bright and shiny as it seems."