Feature Writer Terri Winaught – The Horror of Hate

Several years ago, Jennifer Daugherty, a 30-year-old woman with an intellectual disability, was tortured over a 36-hour period and then murdered. Because I was so horrified by that senseless tragedy, I had pushed it out of my mind for over a year. Recently, though, I read a disturbing article that got me thinking about hate crimes and persons with disabilities. The article chronicled the alleged crimes of 5 individuals who held persons with intellectual disabilities captive to steal their Social Security benefits.

On January 23, 2013, the Department of Justice charged Linda Weston, her daughter, and 3 co-defendants with forced labor, fraud, hate crimes, murder, racketeering, and sex trafficking (Four of those crimes were violations of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act).

Linda Weston allegedly convinced the individuals to sign their disability checks over to her by promising them comfortable places to live. What they got instead was being beaten, deprived of adequate food, denied medical care, and locked in attics, basements, and closets. To evade law enforcement, the defendants allegedly moved their captives between Florida, Philadelphia, PA, Texas, and Virginia. These hate crimes took place from at least the fall of 2001 until October 15th, 2011. It was then that Philadelphia police officers rescued individuals from the sub-basement of an apartment building in the city’s Tacony section.

“Today’s indictment represents one more step toward closure and healing, not only for the victims of this heinous hate crime, but for the community as a whole,” said Special Agent-in-charge John Brosnan. The agencies that aggressively investigated these crimes were the Attorney General’s Office, the FBI, the Philadelphia Police Department, and the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General.

If convicted of each charge, the defendants face maximum sentences of life in prison. As the “ring leader,” Linda Weston will also be required to pay restitution of about $212,000, along with other fines.

Hopefully, a combination of aggressive investigation and human decency will put unspeakable hate crimes like these where they belong: buried in the past forever.

Source: http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2011/12/20/judge-3-to-be-tried-in-philadelphia-basement-of-horror-case/

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