Daily Progress staff writer

WASHINGTON — Almost six years after the bodies of two female hikers were discovered in Shenandoah National Park, a federal grand jury has indicted a man prosecutors say slashed their throats because of a hatred of women and homosexuals.
Darrell David Rice was indicted Tuesday by a Charlottesville grand jury in the 1996 killings of Julianne Marie Williams and Laura “Lollie” S. Winans, who had been hiking near Skyland Lodge, off the Appalachian Trail.
“The volatile, poisonous mixture of hatred and violence will not go unchallenged in the American system of justice,” said U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, after announcing the indictment at a news conference at the Department of Justice on Wednesday.
The grand jury indicted Rice on four counts of capital murder, including two that allege he was motivated by the victims’ “perceived gender or sexual orientation.”
If convicted, Rice could be put to death, Ashcroft said.
Williams, 24, of Burlington, Vt., and Winans, 26, of Unity, Maine, were avid hikers and backpackers. They were reported missing in late May of 1996 after they did not return from a five-day backpacking trip.
“She loved the outdoors,” said Winans’ father, John Winans, who attended the news conference. “That’s the one place she would achieve serenity.”
The women’s bodies were found by park rangers at a creek-side campsite on June 1, 1996, “bound and gagged, and with their throats cut,” Ashcroft said.
Rice has stated that Winans and Williams “deserved to die because they were lesbian whores,” according to court papers.
The report of the women’s brutal slaying sent chills through Appalachian Trail hikers and nearby residents, and some 15,000 leads and contacts were reported to authorities.
Prosecutors would not say what led them to Rice, 34, of Maryland. He has been in federal prison in Petersburg since 1998, after being convicted of attempting to abduct a female biker and run her over with his car in Shenandoah National Park.
The victim in that incident, Yvonne Malbasha, testified at Rice’s sentencing that he had “angrily screamed sexual references at her” while trying to abduct her, Ashcroft said.
Rice later pleaded guilty to attempted abduction, and was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
In the park slaying case, prosecutors plan to present evidence that the killings were part of an “ongoing plan, scheme or modus operandi to assault, intimidate, injure and kill women because of their gender,” according to court documents.
Federal authorities have jurisdiction in the case because the slayings were committed on U.S. government land.
The case is slated to be tried in Charlottesville and is believed to be the first prosecuted under hate-crime enhancements to federal sentencing guidelines.
The enhancements are “key to our ability to request the death penalty,” Ashcroft said.
After the attorney general’s news conference, a tearful John Winans said that he hopes prosecutors seek the death penalty.
“I feel strongly,” he said, “that this man could be … incapable of remorse.”

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