Sunday, April 29, 2007
Aaron Hall: An Easy Victim
A friend of Aaron Hall's family tells AI that Aaron Hall stood a mere 5'4" and weighed less than a 100 pounds. He was a nice guy, who like so many young people in Crothersville, got mixed up in drugs. Leslie Horton, a 38-year-old native of this small southern Indiana town, left when she was 18 but recently returned with her husband. She's too familiar with the culture of drugs prevalent among the area's youth. She lost her own brother four years ago after he jumped from a speeding car according to police, or was thrown from the car as Horton believes.
Horton knew Aaron's older brother, Tom, much better than she knew Aaron. She describes Aaron as an "easy victim." Horton said she ran into Hall in a local bar about a year and a half ago soon after he had been released from jail and spoke to him. Horton was unsure why Aaron was jailed. He was depressed and suicidal as Horton described him. The home where Hall was beaten on April 12 involved a party of underage drinkers. Horton fears drugs caused him to be hanging out on that afternoon with men much younger than him. She insists, like Hall's family, that Aaron was not gay. Although he was single at the time of his death, Aaron is survived by a daughter, Day-z Mae Hall.
Horton doesn't know the persons accused of killing Aaron, but she understands that the men are bigger than him. Almost every man in Crothersville was bigger than Aaron to hear Horton describe him. It is inconceivable to her that it would take two men to beat up the small-statured Hall as police allege happened. One of the men accused of killing Aaron, Garrett Gray, is the son of Jackson County Deputy Coroner Terry Gray. It was in Gray's home where Aaron was beaten, and it is where his body was later hidden in a detached garage before police found it 10 days later. According to police, the accused claimed Hall was gay and began fighting with him after he grabbed one of the men's crotch and asked for oral sex.
This aspect of the tragic beating death of Aaron really bothers Horton. Before police publicly announced the arrests of Coleman King, Garrett Gray and James Hendricks, rumors were circulating around town claiming that the accused were saying Aaron was gay and that he had AIDS according to Horton. She worries that this might be part of an effort to shift the blame away from the accused and towards the victim by stigmatizing him in the hope of getting off easy. In a small community like Crothersville, virtually no potential juror would come to the case without prior knowledge of "alleged" or "rumored" facts. "While hate crimes are certainly terrible, people are losing sight that this man was not gay in the slightest, it was a ploy to make their crime seem justifiable since it seems to be condoned by some evil people in this world," Horton said. This defense strategy is referred to in legal circles as the "gay panic" defense.
As AI has noted on numerous occasions, Indiana is but one of five states without a hate crimes law. A hate crimes law allows prosecutors to seek a harsher sentence if the accused committed the crime based upon the offender's bias towards the victim's race, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. If Indiana had such a law, there would be no incentive for a defendant to use the person's sexual orientation as a means of escaping culpability for a serious crime. In this case, the prosecutor has charged King and Gray with murder and voluntary manslaughter. It is conceivable a jury could acquit the two of the more serious murder charge while convicting them on the lesser manslaughter charge carrying a much lighter sentence. Hendricks, who was present during the beating and allegedly helped King and Gray dump his body while he was still alive, was charged with aiding a criminal--a Class C felony. His bond was set at $25,000.
Attempts by AI to learn more about the crime from local authorities over the weekend proved unsuccessful. A phone operator at the Jackson Co. Sheriff's office referred questions to the Indiana State Police's Jerry Goodin, a public information officer. Goodin did not return a message left for him. He is the identical twin brother of State Rep. Terry Goodin (D). Jackson County Coroner Andy Rumph also did not return a voice mail message left with him on Saturday.