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Suspect Who Recanted Pleads Innocent in Racial Burning

January 29, 1993

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ A white teen-ager who recanted his confession in the racist burning of a black tourist pleaded innocent today and plans no further discussions with investigators.

Jeffrey Ray Pellett, who recently turned 18, told his attorney this week he made up the confession and accusations against two other suspects in the New Year’s Day torching of Christopher Wilson of New York.

″He indicated his parents were having difficulty, and he was highly distraught over their relationship. He felt if he focused their attention on another problem, that perhaps would help them,″ defense attorney Mark Ober explained outside court. ″My client simply did not do it.″

Accompanied by his parents Vincent and Carol Pellett, the pale, long-haired teen did not speak during a brief hearing before Circuit Judge Donald C. Evans. Trial was set for April 12.

Pellett, Mark Kohut, 26, and Charles Rourk, 33, all white, are accused of a racially motivated attack. All three remain jailed on charges of attempted murder, kidnapping and robbery.

Wilson, 31, said he was abducted from a shopping center, robbed, insulted with racial slurs, doused with gasoline and set afire in a remote field. A note left at the scene read, ″One less nigger, one more to go.″ It was signed ″KKK.″

The recantation by Pellett led an attorney for one of the other suspects to question in court whether prosecutors have enough evidence to warrant holding them in jail.

Kohut’s public defender, Rick Levinson, said Pellett’s confession was the sole basis for holding his client, and he asked Evans for an immediate bond hearing.

Rourk’s attorney, Kay McGucken, also has indicated she would seek her client’s release because of the recanted confession.

Evans set a hearing on the matter for Feb. 9.

Police said Wilson, who was burned over nearly 40 percent of his body, wasn’t able to pick out the suspects from photographs, and prosecutors are still waiting for an analysis of physical evidence.

Wilson was released from the hospital Wednesday.

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