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Brutal Indiana killing echoes Shepard case

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Brutal Indiana killing echoes Shepard case

Accused teens invoke ‘gay panic’ defense

By ELIZABETH PERRY, Washington Blade

In a case reminiscent of the 1998 Laramie, Wyo., murder of Matthew Shepard, two young men were charged with beating a Crothersville, Ind., man to death and leaving him in a field to die because of a sexual proposition.

According to the police affidavit, defendants in the case, Coleman King, 18, and Garrett Gray, 19, contend Aaron “Shorty” Hall, 35, made a sexual gesture toward King, who felt so threatened he and Gray beat Hall to death. Jackson County, Ind., chief deputy prosecutor Amy Marie Travis said her office was prohibited from talking about the case, but said that the investigation is ongoing.

“If we hear of a rumor we check it out,” she said.

The affidavit said the two young Crothersville, Ind., men and their alleged accomplice, Robert Hendricks, 21, say King and Hendricks picked up Hall on the way back to Gray’s house on a beer run April 12 around noon. King said they were drinking beer and whiskey when Hall, a diminutive, slightly built man, allegedly grabbed King’s crotch and asked him to “suck his dick.” King allegedly punched Hall and then jumped on him, pummeling him. Gray joined the fight and beat Hall while King held him down, the affidavit said.

Gray told police he struck Hall a dozen times and King hit him approximately 75 times that evening. The two allegedly continued to beat Hall until his eyes were swollen shut and he was spitting up blood. They dragged him down the stairs by his feet while his head thudded on each step, according to the affidavit.

Hendricks loaded Hall into the back of Gray’s pickup truck and Gray and King continued to beat him. At one point in the ride Gray asked Hall if he “wanted to die tonight.” The truck stopped on a dirt lane, they dragged Hall out, threw him in a ditch and delivered more blows before driving off and leaving him for dead. Hall’s breathing was labored, but he was still alive when they left, police said.

King and Gray went back to the ditch later with a shotgun to finish the job, they told police, but Hall was not there. Gray found Hall’s body in a nearby field the next day. Several days later they went back to the field, wrapped the body in a tarp and hid it behind some cabinets in Gray’s garage, police said. Hall was reported missing on April 19.

King and Gray turned themselves into police April 22, a day after their friend John Hodge, came forward with information about the crime. Hodge told police a comment Hall made about Gray’s deceased mother set off the altercation. He said Hendricks sent him a cell phone picture of Gray and King holding up a badly beaten Hall.

Some 15 minutes later Hendricks called Hodge on his cell phone during the crime and said, “They’re beatin’ the hell out of that guy.” Hodge said he heard screaming and yelling in the background and Hendricks said, “These boys are fuckin’ ignorant.”

King and Gray were charged with voluntary manslaughter and are being held in the Jackson County Jail without bond. Hendricks was charged with assisting a criminal act is being held under a $25,000 bond. Gray’s case is slated to go to trial Oct. 16; King’s trial is set for Oct. 23

In his testimony to police, Gray said Hall provoked the attack because he grabbed King’s testicles and asked him “several questions regarding whether King had homosexual tendencies.”

In an interview with a local NBC affiliate, the victim’s brother Thomas Hall said he thought his brother was the victim of a hate crime because the perpetrators thought he was gay.

“And he wasn’t gay,” said Hall. “I don’t know any crime on the planet that deserves that type of punishment.”

The Shepard case, in which a the 21-year-old gay college student was savagely beaten, tied to a fence and left for dead by Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, then 21, bears similarities to Hall’s case. The defendants in both attacks claim a sexual proposition made by the victim provoked them to violence.

Dave O’Malley was the lead investigator and commander of the detective division on the Shepard case. After leaving the Laramie Police Department he was elected vice mayor and is now a member at large of Laramie City Council.

In an interview with the Blade, O’Malley said motivation is all about the perceived sexual orientation of the victim.

“It’s all based on the perpetrator’s perception,” said O’Malley. “It goes toward motivation, not whether they are gay or straight. It’s because they perceived the person to be gay.”

Attorney General of Atlanta Paul Howard said the so-called “gay panic defense” is a tactic some attorneys will use in connection with a justifiable homicide defense to sway the jury.

In Shepard’s case the judge refused to let gay panic be introduced and his killers were sentenced to life in prison, but such an outcome is not always guaranteed when the strategy is used.

Howard was Fulton district attorney in 2001 when Ahmed Dabarran, an assistant DA in his office, was slain in his Cobb County apartment. Dabarran’s accused killer, Roderiqus Reshad Reed, claimed he killed him to escape unwanted sexual advances and was acquitted. He predicts the defendants in the Hall case will offer a similar explanation.

“If you check around the country you will find that defendants offer the same lame defense and are acquitted. A reasonable person would say, ‘that’s not a defense.’ It plays on the prejudices of people on the jury. Some people believe if a gay man makes an advance they shouldn’t be treated the same way.”

He said the best way to counter a gay panic strategy is for courts to hold pre-trial hearings and exclude any mention of the term.

Dr. Harold Kooden, a retired clinical psychologist and gay activist from New York City, said there is no specific diagnosis of gay panic or homophobia in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. He said a person who murders someone of the same sex because they came onto him or her is protecting his or her sense of sexual identity.

“I do know of a diagnosis of discomfort with one’s sexuality,” he said. “The idea of connecting ‘homosexual’ and ‘panic’ or extreme discomfort with violence as justification for murder is legalistic. It rests on the assumption that a gay man’s life is less valuable than the preservation of the defendant’s mental status.”

Kooden said murder is not a justifiable, rational response to an unwanted sexual advance. He said if this were the case and it was applied to all sexual orientations, every woman who has been groped or propositioned would be able to kill the other person.

“The alternative is to say ‘no’ and walk away,” he said.

© 2007 | A Window Media LLC Publication

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