Friday, September 25, 2009

Bill Sparkman's Death Still A Mystery

On Wednesday, news reports emerged about Bill Sparkman, a U.S. census worker who died in Clay County, Kentucky under suspicious circumstances. At this moment, little has been determined about the death, as Talking Points Memo reports:

According to an AP report published yesterday, the FBI is working with state police to determine whether this was a homicide, as is believed, and if so, whether it was motivated by anti-government sentiment. An anonymous law enforcement official told the AP that the man was found hanging from a tree with the word "fed" written on his chest.
But the motivation behind the killing -- if indeed it was a killing -- is not clear at this point.
A spokesman for the Kentucky police told TPMmuckraker last night that police were still looking into death, that an autopsy has been scheduled, and no cause of death has yet been listed.

And the commander of the state police post handling the case told the Lexington Herald-Leader today that the police hadn't confirmed it was a homicide. "There are too many unanswered questions for us to lean one way or the other," she said. "Every scenario is still on the table. We have not ruled this is a hate crime against a federal employee."

Census Worker Found Dead In Kentucky -- What Do We Know?

At the moment, not enough has been determined about this case to merit assumptions about whether this is even a homicide, let alone a hate crime. For instance, Marcy Wheeler reminds us that there are other possible motives for murdering a federal worker whose work can affect things like voting:

Before we assume that this apparent homicide was a response solely to the attacks Michele Bachmann and others have made on the census, it's worth recalling how Clay County made news earlier this year, when a bunch of local officials were indicted for vote fraud.

Vote Fraud in Clay County and the Hanged Census Worker

Mainly, though, there's not enough evidence to draw any conclusions, and it's quite possible that details reported by the press aren't even accurate. Factual errors are typical of initial reports. Speculation about the influence of Michelle Bachmann or Rush Limbaugh in this case is a classic case of molestus hoc, ergo propter hoc reasoning - i.e. it's annoying, therefore it has caused this to happen. I think that speculation about whether Republican or conservative rhetoric is responsible for this death is premature and not helpful.

UPDATE (Sept. 25): TPM Muckraker reports that the coroner confirms that the word "Fed" was written on Sparkman's chest. There is still no word that I can see (as of noon PDT) that this has been ruled a homicide.

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