Latvian citizen faces death penalty in U.S.A.

  • 2001-09-06
  • Jorgen Johansson
RIGA - On April 28, 2000, in the U.S. city of Pittsburgh, Richard Baumham-mer, a known racist who holds U.S. and Latvian citizenship, shot dead his Jewish neighbor, Anita Gordon, before driving to a nearby grocery store where he shot dead Anil Thakur, of Indian descent and paralyzed Sandip Patel, also of Indian descent.

He then drove to a Chinese restaurant, where he shot and killed Ji-Ye Sun, a native of China, and Thao Pham from Vietnam. He continued his spree by gunning down Garry Lee, who was black, before being intercepted by police.

In May this year, an Allegheny County jury passed down a death sentence, making Baumhammer the 241st person on Pennsylvania's death row.

The Latvian Embassy in the United States is now pleading for Baumhammer's life. Allegheny County Judge Jeffrey Manning, who is to formally impose the sentence on Sept. 6, has received a letter from the Latvian Embassy's first secretary, Uvis Blums, asking that Baumhammer's life be spared. Blums told The Baltic Times that looking after the interests of Latvia's citizens is part of the embassy's everyday work. "I'm not educated in American law so I don't want to comment on the chances of getting him off the death penalty,"Blums said.

However, the judge has no discretion in the case. In Pennsylvania, a jury's verdict in a capital punishment case is binding.

Vilmars Henins, a spokesman at Latvia's Foreign Ministry, said Blums had not acted on directions from the Foreign Ministry when he wrote to the judge. "This is his own initiative,"said Henins. "He's the only one who can answer questions about this case."

According to court documents and testimonies made during Baumhammer's trial, he had a long history of associating with racist and anti-Semitic groups. The prosecutor said his victims were not selected randomly but due to their ethnic backgrounds.

Victims' families have taken out lawsuits against Baumhammer's parents, Andrejs and Inese Baumhammer, from whom they are claiming millions of dollars. The families say the Baumhammers knew their son was mentally ill and that he had a gun but did nothing to prevent the shooting spree.

Patel had traveled from India to visit his family and to help out in their grocery store. Baumhammer's shot left him paralyzed from the neck down.

"I wanted to help support my parents - now I cannot do that,"the Associated Press reported Patel as saying during Baumhammer's murder trial. "I wanted to do so many things in my life which I cannot now do. People have to do things for me."

Blums said he didn't know of any Latvian citizen who has previously been executed in the United States.