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Statement by Judge Manning in Baumhammers' sentencing

Friday, September 07, 2001

The following statement was read by Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning yesterday when he formally sentenced Richard S. Baumhammers to five death sentences and 112 1/2 to 225 years for crimes he committed while killing five members of ethnic and religious minorities.

This Court has the benefit of the jury's sentencing verdict and a Pre-sentence report and the opportunity to listen to the testimony and evidence in both the trial and the sentencing phase of these proceedings.

This case is more grotesque, vicious and frightening than any case over which I have presided or ever expect to.

There are some extremely disturbing issues raised by this case.

First of all, we know Mr. Baumhammers traveled to Ace Sporting Goods in Washington, Pa., April 30, 1999 and for $528 purchased a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum Revolver, the murder weapon.

Nine days later, just nine days after buying a handgun, Richard Scott Baumhammers was voluntarily mentally committed to St. Clair Hospital, agreeing he was mentally disabled and in need of treatment.

While a voluntary commitment in and of itself does not operate as a bar to the possession of a firearm, it presented to the numerous mental health professionals involved with the defendant a significant opportunity to assess his potential for danger.

Unfortunately, however, even had one or more of them acted to determine that Mr. Baumhammers presented a clear and present danger to others and sought his involuntary commitment, there is no database, no mechanism, no reporting requirement that would have triggered notification to law enforcement and the immediate prohibition from possessing, using or controlling a firearm under section 6105 of the Uniform Firearms Act.

Health care providers are required, under law, to notify law enforcement when they encounter such things as gunshot wounds, domestic violence or evidence of child abuse. And, of course, a criminal conviction is appended to a database.

But there is no requirement or procedure in place because of privacy and privilege issues that requires mental health professionals to notify law enforcement that a particular individual poses a clear and present danger to others.

While many may cry for more restrictions on firearms -- "gun control" -- citing the facts of this case it is apparent that a greater problem is the inability to enforce existing laws. No advocate of the right to bear arms would suggest that the mentally disturbed be unrestricted in the possession of deadly weapons.

These individuals such as Mr. Baumhammers are potentially more dangerous than those persons who have an easily-ascertainable and identifiable criminal record.

It seems this Commonwealth is in dire need of a reporting requirement imposed upon mental health providers to ask their patients if they possess a firearm and to notify law enforcement in the event of a mental commitment in order to effectuate the statutory prohibition against the possession, use or control of a firearm by a person who has been involuntarily committed.

The more horrific matter related to Richard Baumhammers' conduct here, must be attributed to the enormous information vehicle called the Internet. Under the rubric of freedom of speech, our most cherished and fundamental right, the purveyors of racism and hate have gained access to our children, the socially and economically deprived and the mentally disturbed, the weakest among us.

We know that Richard Baumhammers logged onto the web sites of Storm Front and other white racist hate groups. We know he downloaded the words and thoughts of an array of extremists and neo-Nazis. We know that these peddlers of white supremacy espouse individual action the concept called the "lone wolf."

Richard Baumhammers was not the first. On July 4, 1999, Benjamin "August" Smith went on a shooting spree in Illinois and Indiana leaving two dead and nine wounded before he took his own life. As is in this case, all of Smith's victims were either black, Jewish or Asian-American. Coaxed and coached by the mongers of venom and violence, the defendant here became a witting tool of fanatical racism. Baumhammers acted as Smith did in a "lone wolf" attack against minorities. This is what the Internet has spawned. This is the new terrorism in America. Not organized on a massive scale from outside our borders. But lurking and skulking in our midst, individuals filled with hate, literally human time bombs with their fuses set across the information super highway. It is frankly unconscionable that the concept of free speech as envisioned by the founding fathers in our Constitution would ever have encompassed those who advocate random acts of violence in the name of hate.

Following the events of April 28, 2000, the Internet carried the words of the White Aryan Resistance creator Tom Metzger: "Mr. Baumhammers, a white man from Mt. Lebanon in Pennsylvania recently decided to deliver Arian justice in a down home way." This is not constitutionally-protected free speech, this is a threat to our very democracy. This is the true insanity of our times.

Enough has been said about you and the crimes you have committed. Enough has been said about your rights. I want to take a last moment to comment on the rights of those who, because of you, are not here.

On the morning of April 28, 2000, six people arose to their lives, free citizens of this world without fear or trepidation, they surrendered themselves to their daily chores, unaware that they were indiscriminately marked by you for death.

One can hardly imagine the terror you set upon them when you chose to select them as targets for your demented hate. None of them had harmed you, none of them had hurt your family or friends, and none of them had stolen or deprived you of any of the enjoyments of life.

Yet, you set upon them because for you they were somehow responsible for your failure.

Some of them froze. Some of them ran. The last thing they saw was your face, your gun, your finger on the trigger and by the time you were stopped in the swath of your brutal path, five lay dead and the sixth permanently and brutally paralyzed. They and their families will forever suffer needlessly and senselessly because you decided their only misdeed was that they were different from you.

The sentences you are about to receive are the sentences you deserve.

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