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Ind. Town Marks Slain Black Teen

November 26, 1999 GMT

ELKHART, Ind. (AP) _ Hundreds of people held a vigil in memory of a black teen-ager allegedly gunned down by two would-be members of a white supremacist prison gang.

Mourners gathered Thursday at the site where Sasezley Richardson, 19, was shot, collecting more than $1,400 to help his family pay for funeral expenses. He will be buried on Saturday.

``Hate groups must not be ignored,″ said the Rev. Charles Williams, president of the Indiana Black Expo, in a statement read by Elkhart City Council member Arvis Dawson.

Meanwhile, the FBI opened a civil rights investigation to determine whether the shooting should be considered a hate crime, which could lead to a possible death sentence for the two suspects _ - Jason Powell, 19, and Alex Witmer, 18.

Police say Richardson was walking home from a shopping mall Nov. 17 when Powell and Witmer drove by and shot him several times in the head. He died four days later.

Powell, the alleged gunman, and Witmer were charged with murder and have pleaded innocent. Each faces up to 65 years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted.

According to unidentified sources quoted by The Elkhart Truth, Powell was seeking admission into the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist prison gang. He reportedly wanted to earn a spider web tattoo, considered by some skinheads to be a badge of honor for having killed a black person.

Family members of Powell and Witmer said the allegations were nothing more than ``half-truths.″

``They’ve made him out to be a little monster, and he’s not,″ said Christina Bumpus, Witmer’s mother.