May 3, 2001
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'I Feel Great. I Just Shot a Nigger'

Arthur J Pais

"How you doing, neighbor?" Bobby Eckles, a former inmate in a Pittsburgh jail, remembers asking Richard Scott Baumhammers.

"I feel great, I just shot a nigger,'' Baumhammers, his neighbour in the jail, is said to have declared.

The conversation took place around April 30 last year, two days after Baumhammers reportedly killed five people: one of them was his Jewish neighbor, and the other four -- Chinese, Indian and African-American -- he had never known.

His sixth victim, Sandeep Patel, was also a stranger to him.

The shot paralysed Patel, who now requires daily attention in a hospital. The African-American man happened to be at a Korean-owned establishment.

There is speculation that Baumhammers was looking for only Asians and Jews. Baumhammers' anger at non-white immigrants and Jews had been building for many years, court documents and psychiatric reports show.

Newspapers reported that in May 1999, Baumhammers complained of two things: Jews and chest pains.

That was when he wrote a letter and posted it on the internet, in the hope of founding a 'Free Market Party.'

"Organized Jewish groups control too much power over the political system," the letter declared, and white Christians needed an organization to "protect their interest." But "it is difficult to start something like this because Jewish groups become very threatened and will try to destroy any group at the onset."

Prosecutors are building a case that questions Baumhammers' assertion that he suffered from delusions when he went on a killing spree.

Prosecutors also say that Baumhammers, whose parents migrated from Latvia, bragged about their wealth. He also intimidated a number of people because of their ethnicity or religion. Prosecutors intend presenting them to the jury in the coming days.

Baumhammers, 35, remains emotionless in the court while his lawyers William H Difenderfer and James Wymard are trying to get him acquitted on grounds of insanity.

On Tuesday, Difenderfer attacked Eckles' testimony, saying that it was unreliable since Eckles has a history of mental illness. But Judge Jeffrey Manning ruled that just because Eckles was in a hospital that dealt with mental patients does not make him incompetent. The jury will have to decide whether to believe the testimony or not, he said.

"Do you think with the money in my family that I'll really go to jail?" Eckles recalled Baumhammers asking.

Prosecutors want the death penalty for Baumhammers, who held anti-immigrant views for many years and had sought psychiatric help several times.

But on the day of the murders, he had not been complaining of hearing voices. He had not mentioned men in black cars with guns firing cyanide bullets.

His parents were in fact relieved that their son was not troubled in a long time. Many eyewitnesses have said that he remained calm as he drove from one murder scene to another.

And the police official who arrested him testified that Baumhammers was "smirking" but otherwise seemed "normal."

He appeared as if "he was happy," Patrolman James Mann told the jury. The police officers, who were looking for Baumhammers following many phone calls, thought they had the wrong man when they stopped his Jeep Cherokee.

"I thought we had the wrong guy," Mann said. "I thought we were going to be sued (for arresting the wrong man)."

Baumhammers was "well-dressed, wearing his seat belt and observing traffic signals and the speed limit," he added.

Earlier Report:

'He Said Hey, And Just Shot Me...'

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