Spare Change's Special Edition

For the first time in its 13-year history, Spare Change News -- the biweekly that covers homelessness and poverty and is distributed by homeless people -- printed a "special edition" today to refute Boston Herald stories suggesting that a man known as "The Stomper" may have been connected to the recent death of homeless man Steven Neiber. Herald Tuesday story And Herald Wednesday story

The Spare Changes News story, headlined "Herald Spreads False Panic Among Homeless People" cites a witness who identifies someone other than "The Stomper" as the person who assaulted Nieber shortly before his death.

This is the hot-off-the-presses Spare Change News story:

Dennis Connolly didn't kill Steven Neiber, witnesses tell SCN
By Paul Rice
Spare Change News

BOSTON. A man named Larry Oliver assaulted Steven Neiber on the morning of the day he died, according to a witness to the crime who shared her story exclusively with Spare Change News. This revelation contradicts a recent Boston Herald report that used circumstantial evidence to tie Dennis Connolly, a notorious homeless thug known as "The Stomper" to the death.

Neiber, a 40-year-old homeless person, was found unconscious on the corner of Milk and Arch Streets in Downtown Crossing on August 13. According to witnesses who slept near Neiber, he had several bruises and cuts to his face. In the days following the murder, the Herald ran multiple stories linking Connolly, who had just been released from jail, to Neiber's death and alleging that homeless people were "living in fear" of Connolly.

At least one homeless person was going to distribute fliers with Connolly's photo to warn homeless people to stay away from him. A reporter also saw an older lady going to different homeless people in the Downtown Crossing area, showing them a picture of Connolly from the Herald and warning them to be careful.

However, according to Susan Jones, a close friend of Steven Neiber, the Herald could not have been further off.

"I was with Stevie from 3:30 a.m. [Saturday morning] 'till about 6 a.m.," she told Spare Change News. "He got in a fight and got punched out over a four-year-old beef. Dennis Connolly didn't have nothing to do with this."

Jones went on to describe an altercation, which apparently took place on the Boston Common, between Neiber and a man named Larry Oliver, who is also known as "Milano Larry" or "Light-Skinned Larry." The fight began after Oliver started yelling at Neiber about an incident from four years ago that apparently involved Neiber smashing Oliver's car window with a brick.

"Larry got up and punched [Neiber] right here and here [gesturing to her left eye and temple] approximately eight times," Jones said. "I asked Larry to stop. He stopped. Stevie got up and smacked Larry in the face. I pushed them apart, and Larry started to hit him in the face again. After someone else pulled Larry off, Stevie walked off normally, he didn't look like he was dazed or nothing."

Multiple sources familiar with the incident corroborated Jones account of the incident.

That evening Neiber was pronounced dead at the New England Medical Center. The autopsy on the victim was nearing completion as of press time, pending toxicology reports. As for Oliver, Jones said she knew of his fate.

"Larry got his ass kicked last night, for Stevie," she said. "[Larry] won't be around here no more. A lot of people saw to that. Stevie got a lot of friends here."

Still, Connolly has a checkered background. He has been charged with murder in the past but never convicted. In addition, he was convicted of assault and battery in the September 2004 beating death of Kenneth Kane, another homeless person, but the Boston Municipal Court judge presiding over the case sentenced him to time served, nine months. Connolly was freed from prison in late July.

Connolly is also no stranger to publicity. In November of 2004, the Boston Globe reported Connolly had been charged with the murder of Owen Azzaro, another homeless person. The first time he was publicly referred to as "The Stomper" was in an April 2 Globe article that also happened to refer to Neiber as a witness to Kane's murder.

Using interviews conducted with anonymous homeless outreach workers, as well as a description of Connolly's history of violence, the Herald painted a thick red line connecting the death of Neiber to Connolly. Although the Herald did not identify the "Stomper" as Connolly at first, the following day the newspaper printed Connolly's name and mugshot on the front page, next to a headline that read: "BEWARE THE STOMPER." The trap appeared to have swung shut on Connolly.

"[Connolly is] violent when he drinks," John, another friend of Neiber's who knew him and Connolly, told Spare Change News. "He has blackouts, and he's got rage. But he's not the type of person who would just go around and beat up on people. They let him off for time served in Ken[neth] Kane's beating; now they wanna punish him for a crime he didn't do. They should punish him for what he did do."

A police source said that he knows who Connolly is but hasn't heard anything connecting him to the Neiber case. Still, police are on the lookout for him. "If we see him we'll conduct a field interrogation and observation, but he's not currently wanted for anything," the source said.

In response to the media frenzy, Boston Emergency Shelter acting director Jim Greene said, "Throwing around the names of people who are potential victims puts them at further risk. People should regard the vulnerability of homeless people."

When asked about the Herald's treatment of Connolly, Jones, the witness to Neiber's murder, said: "It's a lie. It's all one big lie."

According to Samuel Scott, the Spare Change News editor and the paper's only full-time employee, today's story was reported by Paul Rice, an intern who "did old-fashioned shoe leather reporting...We felt like the Herald article was spreading panic among the homeless people in Boston. In general it's a newsworthy story."

Herald managing editor Kevin Convey counters, however, that "the lead that they [Spare Change News] are trumpeting is a lead that we pursued days ago and we concluded it was a dead end based on what cops and homeless advocates were telling us."
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