Third ID Soldiers Charged in Beating - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

03/07/06

Third ID Soldiers Charged in Beating

Five Third Infantry Division soldiers are in jail for attacking a man over the weekend. Police say the soldiers beat the man outside a Savannah gay club.

The beating has left one man a bloody mess, and an entire community looking over their shoulders, wondering if they could be next.

Now prosecutors in Chatham County are telling the story of five men ganging up on one and leaving him beaten half to death. It happened early Sunday morning in front of Blaine's Back Door Bar on Perry Lane in Savannah.

That's where investigators say the five Fort Stewart-based soldiers chased down, and then beat down David Bennett. After their arrest, police say one of the men used a slur while telling them he attacked Bennett because Bennett was gay.

"How dare you, as a human being, violate and harm, savagely beat a fellow human being?" That's what Kevin Clark would like to say to the suspects. "Words can't describe the fear, the anger, the feeling of violation."

He knows that feeling all too well. He says he's been verbally attacked several times just because of his sexual orientation. That's why he's become a gay advocate, aiming to make a difference. "This is not welcome in Savannah, not welcome in Georgia, not welcome in this country," he said. 

Clark says, despite a few isolated issues, he's always felt welcome in Savannah. He even flies the rainbow flag proudly over his bed and breakfast downtown. But these men's hate has taken away some of his security, and Clark says, if convicted, they should pay.

"They have to be given the most severe penalty possible to send a signal to any wannabes out there, whether they be military or not, that you can't do this," Clark said.

Because the men don't have any direct ties to the area, the judge felt they were a flight risk. So all five soldiers will be held without bond.

This case is already affecting a hate crime bill Georgia Senate. The bill, which would lead to tougher penalties for specific crimes against minority groups, passed through a committee today by an 8-3 vote. Advocates used Bennett's beating as an all-too-real example of what can happen.

They believe the emotion connected to this case may have swung the vote in their favor. They only hope that moment will carry over when the bill is in front of the whole Senate.

South Carolina is one of four states that have no hate crime laws at all. The federal hate crime law has been in effect since 1969 but does not include crimes against gays.

Reported by: Andrew Davis, andrewdavis@wtoc.com

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