In what is described as “their first extensive interview” with the AP, the family of rape and murder victim Channon Christian are saying that the Internet mutilation accounts are exaggerated:

The Christians said Internet accounts have exaggerated aspects of the crime, particularly accounts that the victims were mutilated. “Seventy-five percent of the stuff you are reading on the Internet is fallacies,” Gary Christian said. “They are stretching it out of proportion. (Though) it was horrific and they were tortured.”
The couple was carjacked after leaving a friend’s apartment late Jan. 6. His body was found the next day, shot, burned and dumped along some inner-city railroad tracks. Her body was found two days later in a trash can in a house nearby. Both had been raped.

There’s no question that they were tortured, but an important question is how far that torture went beyond the kidnaping, rape, and murder. While a lot of people are reciting a lot of grotesque details, I have spent a great deal of time trying to verify the numerous allegations of pre-mortem sexual mutilation, without success. As best as I can determine, the earliest recital of the claims was by a notorious racist named Hal Turner, but the first actual journalist to report the claim was the University of Marlyand’s Stefanie Williams. Other than that, trying to verify the allegations is an exercise in futility. Links simply go to other links which go nowhere.
The more people link these words, though, the more the mutually-linked words appear to be true, because of the nature of the Internet. This is not new (and I’ve seen it before), but whenever I see it, I try to point it out. There was a nonexistent retired political science professor (and former Nixon and Reagan official) named “George Harleigh,” and there was the notorious Air Force Regulation 160-23. Both were alive on the Internet, but nowhere to be found in reality. (I consider it a sort of “blogger responsibility” to point such things out when I run across them, but I also see it as an individual human responsibility — one arising out of the natural distaste I feel when I am being lied to.)
In logic, of course, the inability to verify something does not mean that it did not happen or does not exist. On the other hand, should people be reciting unverifiable information and claiming it constitutes facts? I don’t think so — especially when the allegations are highly imflammatory, and involve a case which has not yet gone to trial.
The Christian family’s claim that the facts are exaggerated made me think of something else so obvious I don’t know why it never occurred to me before, and that is this: if the pre-mortem sexual mutilation occurred, why aren’t any of the suspects being charged with it?
I haven’t researched the law, but I’m pretty sure it is illegal in Tennessee to sexually mutilate living people, whether by cutting off penises or cutting off breasts. If there is any evidence that such crimes committed, why hasn’t anyone been charged with the crimes? It’s not as if there hasn’t been enough time to conduct detailed medical examinations. If I may speculate for the sake of argument, if we assume the horrific pre-mortem mutilation occurred, for some reason the authorities in Tennessee are failing to charge anyone with the crime. (And they’re covering it up as well.) Unless additional charges are pending, this doesn’t make sense.
Again, I wish people would stop reciting things that cannot be verified, because it isn’t helping what is a very serious case.
Those who complain about the lack of media coverage ought to be especially concerned.
Again, facts matter.
(Even on the Internet.)
UPDATE: I have just received an email from Stefanie Williams, who believes that I treated her unfairly:

Since I see you made it a point to cover what I sad in my e-mail in
your blog today, I’d like ot point out several things to you. One, I was
not a journalist. News reporters, those who actually report the news,
are journalists. I was a columnist for the opinion section of our paper,
and even if you go back at my other news related articles (the Duke
Lacrosse Case article, and the priest molestation charges in Maryland,
even my story about my Kappa Alpha Theta sorority), every fact in those is
true and can be verified. So when you say the “the first actual
journalist to report the claim was the University of Marlyand’s Stefanie
Williams”, you are lying. I am not a journalist. I am an English major who
had a bi-weekly OPINION column, not NEWS column.
Secondly, you say so self sighteously “I consider it a sort of “blogger
responsibility” to point such things out when I run across them, but I
also see it as an individual human responsibility — one arising out of
the natural distaste I feel when I am being lied to”. Have you ever
contacted Cash Michaels or Wendy Murphy to ask them why they continue to
spread a viscious lie that the Duke three paid two million dollars to
shut Crystal up? Have you asked why they continue to perpetuate this lie?
Have you contacted Cash about the multiple articles he wrote last year
regarding “cousin Jakki’s” verification that indeed there was a payoff,
yet the accuser claiming otherwise? Have you contacted Cash Michaels to
lambast him for not posting his “sources” that “some black leaders”
were approached by “some people” about 2 million dollars? I haven’t seen
you bitch about that in your blog. And Cash Michaels is an actual, on
the books, paid by a news publication reporter whose job it is to!
collect facts and report them to the public, not to give opinions. I
have yet to see you lambast him, but maybe you just managed to miss over
that little snipit of total bullshit regarding a huge miscarriage of
justice in our society that was reported online MULTIPLE TIMES IN HIS
ARTICLES and somehow a college student’s editorial piece that at the time
still stands 98% true, with 2% uncertainty regarding two of the MANY
tortures those two kids endured, deserved way way way more attention. I
guess I am just missing the big picture. Or maybe you did, I’m not sure.
Next, you make an excellent point: “Those who complain about the lack
of media coverage ought to be especially concerned.” As I mentioned in
my previous e-mail, if I didn’t have reason to believe it was true, I
wouldn’t have printed all the information I was given. As I mentioned, it
came from a reliable source, other parts of that information turned out
to be true, and as I repeat, I AM NOT A JOURNALIST with a PRESS PASS I
am not at liberty to information, nor was there much available at the
time. You say I perpetuated a lie. How about I included every bit of
information that up until that date, had been said about the crime. “Some
reports say…”. Some reports, my source. I made it very clear that it
wasn’t definitely confirmed, but that I had heard that those two bodily
mutilations also happened. That is not lying, that is repeating what I
was told about the case, issues that hadarisen on the internet about
the case, because my column was not a news report, it was an op-ed !
submission about this case where these kids might have been tortured as
far as these reports, some reports, my source had said. There is a
difference you are not understanding, and by calling my a hypocrite because
you seem to think I was perpetuating a lie you are taking away from the
entire point to my article; had it not been for my article, to date,
10,451 people would not have read about their deaths or the lack of media
coverage. And out of all the tortures those two endured, whether or not
the final bit was done, seems to be irrelevant, specifically when you
now know I didn’t include it to “sensationalize” it, but rather to
include all the information I had at the given time.
“Again, facts matter.” Then I suggest you learn to distinguish an
editorial opinion columnist from a news reporter, if you are so damn
obsessed with “facts” because the “fact” is, I am not a journalist. I am an
English major who had an opinion and a place to write about it. You are
making it seem to your bloggers I was the go to girl for news stories at
my paper. I work for the opinion desk, NOT the news desk. When we have
editorial meetings (as I am not the EDITOR of the opinion section,
because my stories, even this one, have not only garnered so much
attention, stirred up so much information and made such good points, but exposed
many lies of other organizations), Opinion editors are asked to leave
when the NEWS is discussed because NEWS and OPINION are kept separate. I
was not a news reporter when I wrote this column. I was an opinion
columnist who was handed information about this case and I wrote MY OPINION
about the information I was given.
“(Even on the Internet.)” Except on your blog, where you continue to
make it out as though I am a dirty reporter with no sources, which is a
complete inaccurate depiction of me and a complete lie. And apparently,
you seemed to let Cash Michaels off the hook time and and time again,
an actual journalist, who to this day is still perpetuating lies in
order to make it out as though the Duke three are guilty of SOMETHING. But
hey, apples and orangs right? A college publication with an op-ed from
a college girl who consistantly wrote thorough and factual opinion
articles (again, I suggest you read them all, if you are so interested in
facts) that couldn’t with 100% certainty verify the fact that Newsom’s
penis was cut off and Christian’s breast cut off, but had reason to
believe and at the very least thought readers should know that this was
even being said about the case, God let’s just make her the main focus of
four blog submissions because she really has an effect on the world,!
and she must have some sort of agenda. Maybe we’ll expose her as a
raging KKK member or the daughter of David Duke! Nope, I’m not.
I suggest you take all your own criticisms of me and possibly use them
in your future blogs. Stiring the pot with words like “journalist”
instead of “op-ed columnist”, citing “facts” as missing instead of
understanding I worded my column carefully enough to show it was not certain,
are all lies, and lies by omission. But you are the self righteous
leader of the blog world against college opinion columnists who once in 20
columns might, MIGHT have been wrong about a lengthy, gruesome torture,
where rape, sodomy, abuse, cleaning fluid in the mouth, gun shot
wounds, the body set on fire, were all prevelent and accurate, somehow you
think that in the big picture the penis and breast comments matter. No.
They don’t. And the way I worded it makes it that way.
If you want to keep bloging about me as though you are the amazing
blogger who caught the lying “journalist” with her hand in the cookie jar,
go ahead. If it makes you feel important, like you uncovered some huge
agenda driven conspiracy to make these murders “look worse” than they
really were, you need a new hobby. I didn’t have to sensationalize the
story. Leave out the penis and breast part, and people would still be
outraged about not hearing about the brutal rape of a man and woman who
were tortured and murdered, their bodies destroyed (Newsom’s body WAS
set on fire). Look at the bigger picture. Stop playing self righteous
blogger. And stop painting me to be something I’m not so you can benefit
from it. I’m tired of it.
Stefanie Williams
Maryland ’08

Fair enough. I’m not playing self righteous blogger here, but I wish I’d had a reply earlier. If Ms. Williams does not consider herself a journalist, fine. Lots of people were relying on her column, which was one of the few sources cited by links that went anywhere at all. It struck me as the only reliable report in existence, and I looked. I never accused her of lying, nor hypocrisy, nor having an agenda, nor did I ever insinuate a connection to David Duke or the Klan. I only wanted to verify these reports.
As to Cash Michaels and Wendy Murphy, I haven’t written about them, and maybe I should. There are a lot of things I’ve never written about and maybe should.
While I don’t think all of the above criticism is well-founded, I decided to post this in order to be fair to Ms. Williams.
I’d still like to know the facts, though.
MORE: Since the subject was raised, readers who are interested in reading about Wendy Murphy could probably start here and here.
AND MORE: Yesterday, Glenn Reynolds linked a column by the distinguished John Leo — a journalist by any standard, for whom I have the highest respect and whom I have cited in this blog on a number of occasions. Writing in the New York Sun, here’s what John Leo says:

Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom, 23, were out on a dinner date in Knoxville, Tenn., on January 6, when they were carjacked, kidnapped, raped, tortured, sexually mutilated, and killed.
Despite the press’s taste for dramatic crimes, even crimes that do not involve missing blondes in Aruba, the story got almost no publicity. Conservative bloggers, who are beginning to buzz about the case, think they know why: the couple was white and the five suspects arrested in the case are black.
The mainstream press does not like to carry stories of black mayhem and white victims. First, there is the fear of stirring up more racism among Klansmen and neo-Nazis, as the Knoxville case has started to do. More importantly, the newsroom culture tends to view black-on-white crimes as responses to black oppression, and therefore not worth reporting. Whereas similar white-on-black crime is oppression itself, and thus crucially important to put before readers and viewers.

While John Leo is right to criticize the mainstream press for not wanting to report this story, he is himself reciting the unverified facts — which are (in my opinion) the most emotionally inflammatory details in the case. Considering John Leo’s status as a sort of senior statesman in the business, the fact that he did the same thing that Stefanie Williams did hardly makes her look bad; the only difference is that she wrote about the details before John Leo did.
While I wish they’d both said “according to unverified reports,” I’d still like to know whose “reports” they were, because knowing the source of the reports is an aid in evaluating their possible validity.
It is still possible that they’ll turn out to be true.
But if (as Nicholas Stix condends) they in fact originated with the notorious Hal Turner, I think that’s unlikely.
AND MORE: Also via Nicholas Stix, there’s this report that the District Attorney’s office says the sexual mutilation allegations are false:

Similarly, claims made over the Internet that the couple were sexually mutilated are “absolutely not true,” John Gill, special assistant to District Attorney Randy Nichols, said Friday.

I don’t know how to confirm that, but if it is legitimate (as it appears to be) people should just stop reciting these allegations.
MORE: A web site called the Council of Conservative Citizens is taking issue with Assistant District Attorney Gill’s claim that the couple was not sexually mutilated:

Assistant District Attorney John Gill claims that the couple was not sexually mutilated. Well, John Gill, what do you call hacking off a woman’s breasts and a man’s penis while they are still alive? While the details of the crime have not been widely reported, they are well documented. Christian was forced to watch her boyfriend brutally tortured and then shot. She was then raped repeatedly for four days and tortured until she died. The suspects are also alleged to have purchased Viagra so they could continue raping the girl. Truly this was one of the most horrific hate crimes in US history.

I guess this means that according to some people, the failure to file torture charges and the denial of sexual mutilation is all part of a coverup. If the details “are well documented,” please, tell me where.
Show me one document!
MORE: I’m now accused of “defending” the awful perpetrators in the comments below. Far from it; I hope they get the death penalty, and I certainly hope the circulation of inflammatory rumors doesn’t help the defendants.
It’s beginning to look like some people care less about the facts (and less about the prosecution’s case, even) than their partisan interests.
UPDATE (06/03/07): I just returned from vacation and found this email from Stefanie Williams, the text of which I thought merited an update:

So as I am on summer break, our news editions don’t begin until June
6th I believe. I am the opinion editor during the year, not the summer,
and rarely am I allowed to write articles anymore. So in lieu of writing
a “new facts show” article, I logged into my administrative site and
updated the original article, and removed the sexual mutilation
I hope you understand whole heartedly I did not intend this article to
spread rumors and lies. I worked on it based on a reliable source. And
sometimes, reliable sources can make mistakes too. Before I removed it,
I wanted to make sure the information (no mutliation) was correct, and
as it has now been shown, there was no mutilation, so I promtly removed
it, leaving only the information that has been substantiated by reports
and documents. I am not a white supremacist, I am not a KKK member, I’m
pretty liberal to be honest-this had nothing to do with my “agenda”, as
I don’t have one, and I never wanted people to believe so. Your blog
upset me because I think a lot of people thought that’s who I was, a KKK
white supremacist looking to exploit the murders of two kids. It’s so
far from the truth, and I hope I have shown you that about myself.
Do I still believe this crime deserved more media attention?
Absolutely. Do I believe it was a hate crime? Debatable, though I do think
affluence and “white affluence” had a place in the attack, but I will wait
’til trial to make a full blown decision. I am not a racist. I just seek
equality all around. If this happened to two black kids by whites, I
would feel the same way if it weren’t reported. Just like I feel anger
that so many minority men, women, and children go missing daily and Greta
is not on their case 24/7.
I hope by me correcting the article, it will show you and others than I
was not trying to sensationalize this or lead to any further racial
tensions. I don’t believe the families of these two victims, nor the
victims themselves, would ever wish to create an atmosphere of dishonesty or
racial hatred–I think those who exploited this tragedy to advance
their own agendas (specifically white supremacist groups who marched in
Knoxville, for example) did nothing to help any situations that this
brutal double murder highlighted. Making a situation more tense is never a
way to solve it. That was not what my article intended to do either. It
just saught to put things in perspective coming from a very frustrated
former men’s lacrosse manager and citizen of a town that was under
scrutiny for so long after the Duke Lacrosse Hoax. Regardless of whether
the victims were white, black, yellow, pink, or blue, I think this case
deserved more attention, and the media failed miserably. I have my !
own opinions why, as I stated, but I don’t think anyone will ever
surely know why this case was overlooked. All I can hope is that the
families find some peace in knowing those who did this to their children are
in custody and justice will (hopefully) prevail.
I was hoping maybe you would be willing to post this on your blog, if
it’s not too much trouble. I would like people to see that I never
intended the article to be viewed as racial propaganda, nor am I a part of
any group or organization trying to advance an agenda. Simply, I saw
something that pissed me off and I wrote about it. That’s what I did as an
opinion columnist.
I apologize very much that it came out so late that indeed those two
facts (the penis and breast mutilations) were false. I never would have
printed them if I didn’t truly believe they were correct. And I hope
people understand that.
Take care,
Stef Williams
Maryland ’08