Originally created 02/11/06

Man declares innocence



SAVANNAH, Ga. - A Savannah man charged with murder in the Christmas Eve shooting of a 19-year-old debutante declared "I'm innocent" in a jailhouse interview published Friday.

Michael Thorpe, 25, told the Savannah Morning News that police arrested him in the slaying of Jennifer Ross because he refused to answer investigators' questions.

"I have no idea why they think I did it," Mr. Thorpe said. "Because I'm black, I'm guilty. I feel it's a racial thing going on."

A mugger shot Ms. Ross in the back in the city's downtown historic district hours after she danced with her father, a local hospital executive, at Savannah's Christmas Cotillion. She died from her injuries New Year's Day.

The slaying galvanized Savannah business leaders to call for a crackdown on crime. But the outcry over the death of a young white woman from a prominent family has been racially polarizing in a city where most residents, and most murder victims, are black.

Savannah-Chatham County Police Chief Willie Lovett said Friday his detectives have enough evidence to link Mr. Thorpe to the slaying. He would not be specific, saying he did not want to disrupt the investigation.

"I don't know of anybody in his situation that's going to admit being guilty," Chief Lovett said. "The evidence is there to support his arrest."

Police arrested Mr. Thorpe on Jan. 31, the same day a second suspect in the slaying, Kevin Huckabee, was arraigned in court on charges of possessing a stolen Ford Taurus that investigators believe Ms. Ross' killers used to flee the shooting. Murder charges were added against Mr. Huckabee, 20, on Wednesday.