The Ledger, Jan. 18, 2003
By Jeff Scullin, The Ledger
BARTOW — A Lakeland man described as a white supremacist who targeted and clubbed black victims on two occasions is facing as many as six years in prison for what prosecutors portray as racially motivated hate crimes.
Polk Circuit Judge Michael McCarthy Friday revoked 19-year-old James Draper’s probation for an earlier attack after hearing testimony about Draper’s possible identification with white supremacist groups and the August attack on Ife Morrison, who was clubbed in the back of the head while walking down Valencia Street in Lakeland.
Prosecution witnesses described Draper as someone who, at best, made occasional disparaging remarks about blacks and Jews and, at worst, embraced the racist ideology and violent methods of the skinhead movement.
Aaron Roddenberry, one of three passengers in Draper’s PT Cruiser the night of the attack, recalled how Draper circled the block once where Morrison was walking and then went back for her.
“He said something like, `Do you want to get her’?” said Roddenberry, describing the blow to the back of Morrison’s head as loud enough to be heard from the back seat where he was sitting.
In August, Lakeland police arrested Draper for aggravated battery and for violating his probation in connection with the attack on Morrison, who was hit with an 18-inch fiberglass billy club used to stun and kill fish.
Police also charged Draper with reckless driving and trespassing after he nearly crashed into a police cruiser en route to where Morrison was attacked.
During a search of the PT Cruiser, officers found a green coat adorned with patches bearing white supremacist and skinhead symbols, Lakeland police officer Billie Minser testified.
Draper was denied bail and has been awaiting trial in the Polk County Jail.
At the time of the August attack on Morrison, Draper was on probation for hitting a black boy in the back and trying to hit a second boy in November 2001.
In that case, Lakeland police charged him with prejudice battery and assault, but he pleaded guilty to lesser charges of assault and battery.
A judge withheld adjudication, a formal finding of guilt that strips a person of certain civil rights, but sentenced Draper to two years’ probation and imposed other restrictions.
Now that McCarthy has revoked Draper’s probation in connection with the Morrison attack, he will sentence him on the charges to which the teenager already has pleaded guilty. Assistant State Attorney Brad Copley said the judge could sentence Draper to as many as six years in state prison and that he hopes to set a sentencing hearing within 10 days.
Sending Draper to prison would send an important message about people who commit such crimes, Copley said.
“People are going to pay a penalty for this kind of racist activity,” he said. “We’re not going to sweep it under the rug.”
During Friday’s hearing, Draper’s attorney, Dick Mars, repeatedly called testimony describing his client as a racist “hearsay.”
The teen’s father, Bob Draper, said he never noticed racist tendencies in his son and claims that the teenager is a violent white supremacist would be disproven at his sentencing.
“The black community’s in support of him,” Bob Draper said.