By Monica Rhor
Sunday, January 7, 2007
SPRING, Tex. -- David Tuck had been spitting anger since he was a second-grader, jabbing at a neighbor's Doberman with a knife and striking out at other children with random fury.
By the time he turned 18, Tuck was a fully charged explosive, in danger of going off at the slightest touch. His head was shaved, his body was etched with Nazi tattoos, and his music blared hatred for blacks and Jews. He had three racially motivated assaults on his record, at least one against a Latino.
Many who knew him stayed out of his line of fire. But that warning did not reach a Hispanic teenager from the same northern Houston suburb.
On a warm weekend in April, their lives collided.
The night began with a party and ended with one teenager laying beaten, bleeding and close to death, the other splattered with blood and charged with aggravated sexual assault.
One would emerge battered but resolved to retrieve his dreams for the future; the other would face a lifetime behind bars.
"I've handled many, many bad cases, many, many important cases, but I don't think I've dealt with one where they tortured anyone quite as badly as this one," said Harris County prosecutor Mike Trent. "They violated him in the most brutal way possible."
* * *
Harris County sheriff's investigators arrived at a two-story house in Spring to find a barely conscious 17-year-old boy slumped at the kitchen table. His face and body were so swollen from repeated blows that he was unrecognizable.
They also found Tuck, loitering at the scene, his clothes and boots stained with fresh blood.
Gus Sons, the homeowner's son, told police that he and the victim met Tuck and another teenager, Keith Turner, at the town's annual Texas Crawfish and Music Festival the night before. Sons knew Turner and Tuck, but the other teenager did not.
The four went to Sons's house to drink vodka, snort cocaine, smoke marijuana and take Xanax, a prescription anti-anxiety drug. Then, Sons's 12-year-old sister, Danielle, told the boys that the Hispanic teenager had tried to kiss her.
Her statement ignited Tuck. His first punch was so powerful, it broke the 17-year-old's cheekbone and knocked him unconscious, said James H. "Red" Duke Jr., the emergency physician who treated him.
Tuck and Turner dragged the victim outside.
For the next five hours, they tortured him: They stripped him naked, kicked him with steel-toed boots, burned him with cigarettes and choked him with a garden hose. Tuck shouted racial epithets and carved a swastika in the boy's chest with a knife.
Turner grabbed a plastic patio umbrella pole and placed it near the victim's rectum. Tuck kicked the pole several inches in.
Both Tuck and Turner were convicted of aggravated sexual assault. Turner's trial revealed a boy who came from a relatively stable home and had minor run-ins with the law, but no history of racist violence. He seemed to be a follower caught up in a nightmare. Still, he was sentenced last month to 90 years in prison.
The 17-year-old victim, whom the Associated Press is not naming because of the sexual nature of the attack, lay in a hospital bed for three months.
The plastic pole perforated his bladder and caused extensive internal damage. The night after the assault, his lungs failed and he was placed on a ventilator.
Albert and Laticia Galvan, the aunt and uncle who raised him from infancy, kept watch over his hospital bed. They looked at his bruised face and his bloated body, and fought the questions jabbing through their thoughts like barbed wire.
Would he make it through the night? Through the week? If he did, would the outgoing, always smiling teenager ever be the same?
"I didn't think he was going to make it," Laticia Galvan recalled on the witness stand. "I didn't want to think about that. I wondered if mentally, is he going to be okay? I wasn't sure if he'd ever be able to walk again."
* * *
The two teenagers grew up four miles apart, in a modest neighborhood of well-tended lawns and winding cul-de-sacs.
Tuck's parents divorced when he was 1, and his father was sidelined to occasional visits. His mother, by all accounts, tried to keep her son in line, but was often exhausted from working double shifts. Neither parent agreed to be interviewed.
Richard Rogers, a former high school teacher who lives next door to the Tucks, remembers finding Tuck, at age 9, poking a knife through the cracks of a fence, trying to stab Rogers's pet Doberman.
Over the years, Rogers's car was vandalized. A little girl was assaulted. A Hispanic neighbor was threatened with chants of "Sieg Heil," a phrase used at Nazi rallies. Another girl was stabbed.
Each time, the problem was traced to Tuck, Rogers said.
The teenager who would be Tuck's victim grew up surrounded by a big, noisy, affectionate family: two brothers, one sister and the Galvans. Among them, he stood out as an extrovert.
Besides football, the boy played basketball and ran track. His MySpace Web page, filled with pictures of him smiling with other teenagers, listed his sports heroes: NBA star Tracy McGrady and University of Oklahoma football player Adrian Peterson.
A good student who named history as his best subject, the teenager was homecoming king of his freshman class and looked forward to playing football in his senior year.
Tuck's heroes, meanwhile, were of a darker sort: His half brother, Sammy Bohanan, a skinhead who littered his conversation with racial slurs, had a tattoo of Adolf Hitler on his chest and taught Tuck his ways.
By the time Tuck was 18, he had six assaults on his record: three racially motivated and three against women, said Trent, the prosecutor.
High school proved thorny for the outgoing boy who would be Tuck's victim. In his junior year, he began to use drugs and hang out with troubled teenagers. He was placed at an alternative school for students with disciplinary problems, and the transfer seemed to motivate him to straighten out.
"He was about his business here. He was doing what he needed to do to get out," Principal Michele Kronke said.
"I wanted to get back to" the neighborhood high school, the teenager said. "I wanted to get back and play football."
His plan seemed to be working when he met Sons. A month later, they went to the crawfish festival and ran into Tuck and Turner.
The next thing the teenager remembers is waking up in a hospital bed, his body covered with burns and bandages.
* * *
In mid-November, Tuck and his victim met again -- this time at Tuck's trial.
From the witness stand, the teenager gamely fixed his gaze on Tuck, his voice steady as he described his injuries and his struggle to regain his normal life.
As he spoke, Tuck stared straight ahead, silent and motionless.
Tuck had been in jail since his arrest on April 23, contemplating his sentence -- he was given life in prison. He will be 48 on his first possible parole date.
His victim had spent three months lying in a hospital bed, undergoing close to 40 surgeries and contemplating a possible life of infirmity.
When classes began again in the fall, he returned to high school in a wheelchair. A few weeks later, he was walking without crutches. He is tethered to a colostomy bag. He tires quickly. He faces more surgeries.
"I didn't understand why, how, they could do it," he said, describing how he felt when he saw Tuck and Turner in the courtroom. "I felt like they were both still kids. It made me realize that the rest of their lives are going to be in prison. It made me sad to think of lives wasted like that."