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Guardsmen arraigned in bias attacks

The families of two National Guard members accused of racially motivated crimes looked on in grief-stricken disbelief Friday afternoon as the men made their first appearance in Jackson County Circuit Court.

Andrew Lee Patterson, 23, of Eagle Point, faces assault, kidnapping, intimidation and burglary charges for his alleged role in a string of attacks that investigators said were part of their plan to clean up Medford.

Aaron Andrew St. James, 25, of Medford, faces assault, intimidation and burglary charges for his alleged participation in two attacks Thursday morning.

Their mothers, Joanna Sweeden and Cricket St. James-Johnson, clasped hands while St. James conferred with a public defender.

Oh God, whispered St. James-Johnson.

Outside the courtroom, she said her only son, a South Medford High School graduate, returned from peacekeeping duty on the Sinai peninsula on Jan. 24 and had been relaxing with family and friends. He called her on his cell phone Thursday morning and said things had gone terribly wrong while he was out with friends.

Police allege that Patterson, St. James and their friend and fellow Guard member, Chadwick James Ritchie, 21, beat a homeless man around midnight Thursday, then attacked a motel owner they believed was an Arab. Ritchie committed suicide in the parking lot of Shari's restaurant on Stewart Avenue after the attacks.

Investigators think the attacks were the latest in a string of racially motivated crimes this month. They linked Ritchie and Patterson to assaults on a homeless man Jan. 14 and charged Patterson in that incident. They also think the two men likely chased and threatened a group of black teenagers Jan. 13, but that case is still under investigation, Medford police Lt. Mike Moran said.

Patterson was arraigned on charges of first-degree assault, two counts of second-degree assault, third-degree assault, fourth-degree assault, first-degree kidnapping, first-degree intimidation and first-degree burglary. He remains in the Jackson County Jail on &

36;300,000 bail.

St. James was arraigned on charges of second-degree assault, third-degree assault, first-degree intimidation, first-degree burglary and fourth-degree assault. He is jailed on &

36;100,000 bail.

St. James-Johnson said her son, who worked as a floor supervisor at Bear Creek Corp., met Ritchie and Patterson in the National Guard several years ago. Ritchie and Patterson had been best friends since grade school, Sweeden said.

They had been in trouble before, with Ritchie often dodging the worst of the consequences, Patterson's angry family said outside the courtroom.

When Patterson was 19, he was convicted of first-degree criminal mischief for vandalism in Bear Creek Park.

A 17-year-old boy, whom police did not identify at the time because he was a juvenile, also was involved in that incident.

In August, Ritchie and Patterson were found guilty of setting fire to a barracks in the Sinai and were sent home, Guard officials said. Guard officials ordered Ritchie not to associate with Patterson and said they felt Ritchie seemed to be on a path of rehabilitation. Recently, the two apparently reconnected and continued their destructive behavior, officials alleged in a press release.

Capt. Chet Cary, at the National Guard's battalion headquarters in Ashland, said Ritchie, Patterson and St. James hadn't shown any racist behavior while on duty.

Any racist remark would have been dealt with swiftly, he said. In our job, we have to deal with all types of people and have their trust, so that kind of behavior wouldn't be tolerated.

Because the alleged attacks didn't happen while the Guard members were on duty, military officials will let civilian authorities handle the case, Cary said. If the men are convicted, then a military judge advocate general will be called to act, he said.

In Circuit Court, a preliminary hearing for each of the accused men has been set for Feb. 7. Prosecutor Beth Heckert expects to present the case to a grand jury Tuesday.

The families of the suspects claim their loved ones don't embrace racist ideas.

I'm flabbergasted by the whole thing, said Patterson's stepfather, Michael Casci. If he does harbor those feelings, it's news to me and the family.

Casci said Patterson wasn't brought up around white supremacist ideas. He said Patterson, who worked as a host at Shari's, was proud to be in the National Guard and wanted to join the Army full time.

St. James-Johnson said the same of her son: He's not a racist. Everybody who knows him knows that about him. He gets along with everybody.

She said he had served 18 months in Saudi Arabia with the National Guard before the recently completed Sinai mission and had made friends in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. He was considering joining the Army and dated a girl who serves in the Navy.

Graffiti 'tribute' lands — in jail

Medford police cited three men on criminal-mischief charges after they reportedly painted a memorial mural to Chad Ritchie on the side of the Big 5 store near the parking lot where Ritchie killed himself.

Police got a report of a group of people vandalizing the sporting-goods store about 4 a.m. Friday. They cited Uriah Leroy Lamproe, 21, of the 3600 block of Antelope Road, White City; Antonio David Hernandez, 19, of the 1500 block of South Peach Street, Medford; and Camaren Michael Laemann, 21, of the 200 block of Cottage Street, Medford. All three were cited to appear in Medford Municipal Court.

David Hunter, manager of Big 5, said the large graffiti tribute to Ritchie will have to remain on the east side of the building until Monday. He's unsure how much it will cost the store to remove the message.

Medford police Lt. Mike Moran said the business can seek restitution if the suspected vandals are convicted.

A memorial service is set for Ritchie on Monday at Applegate Christian Fellowship. National Guard Capt. Chet Cary said the commander of Ritchie's unit will present Ritchie's family with a flag because he was a veteran. The Guard won't present a color guard.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4459, or e-mail