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.

11 comments:

Peter said...

This is a horrible crime. But the criminal charges would not have been any different if Porter's proposed hate crimes bill had been passed. All that this exceptionally weak bill did was make the fact that a crime was a hate crime an aggravating circumstance that a court would consider in imposing sentence. But the court could still impose any sentence in the range, regardless of whether it found that the crime was motivated by hate or not.

Also - tying into your earlier post - the fact that the prosecutor also charged this as voluntary manslaughter doesn't give them anything they didn't already have. Even without the prosecutor charging the crime this way, the defendants would be entitled to a voluntary manslaughter instruction at trial.

Although from what little I know about this case from news stories (which are often really bad sources of information in criminal cases), it doesn't look like voluntary manslaughter would apply in this case. VM occurs when a crime that would otherwise be murder is precipitated by sudden heat, with the schoolbook example being the man who comes home and finds his wife in bed with another man and shoots them both. This is the basis of the "gay panic" defense - and while it might fall within the definition of "sudden heat" if the victim was shot or stabbed, I think you lose the "sudden" part if the victim is beaten to death over a longer period. I.e., you might suddenly snap and shoot someone; you don't suddenly snap and beat someone for hours.

The "assisting a criminal" charge sounds right - if the third man didn't know about the beating before it happened and only became involved afterwards - even if the victim was still alive - he would not be chargeable with murder.

I can think of a couple of other offenses with which these guys might be charged - most notably, criminal confinement. It's also a felony to move or distub a corpse, for that matter. So I hope some additional charges are filed as the investigation progresses.

Advance Indiana said...

Thanks, Peter for sharing your views. I must be mistaken about the dual-charging. I thought the lesser charge instruction required evidence during the trial which would support it, but I'm not a criminal law expert so I will defer to others. I also thought the third man watching the beating taking place and aiding the other two men in dumping the severely injured Hall in a ditch while he was still alive was enough to charge him as if he had committed the crime himself based on my reading of the criminal statute.

Anonymous said...

"VM occurs when a crime that would otherwise be murder is precipitated by sudden heat, with the schoolbook example being the man who comes home and finds his wife in bed with another man and shoots them both. This is the basis of the "gay panic" defense - and while it might fall within the definition of "sudden heat" if the victim was shot or stabbed, I think you lose the "sudden" part if the victim is beaten to death over a longer period. I.e., you might suddenly snap and shoot someone; you don't suddenly snap and beat someone for hours."

I think certain beatings fit "sudden heat." It really doesn't take that many hits to kill someone. Was this a hands, feet, fist killing, or were items grabbed and used as weapons?

The more I hear about this case, I would say this is NOT a case I would want to hold up as an example of a 'hate crime.' It sounds like a group of good ol boys got together and things happened. It sounds like intoxication may have played a very big part in this as well. I don't know the education level of these folks, but from my own experiences, it seems that gay vs. straight is taken a lot more personal with the under or lower educated types. They don't seem to take jokes about being gay very well. I personally do NOT see this as hate, more likely how a person was raised and how they personally deal with certain disputes. To me, a group of good 'ol boys beating someone because the person teased them about being gay is the same as inner city young black males pulling a gun to solve every single dispute.

I would stop holding this case up as an example of why we need hate crimes. I don't think this case has anything to do with hate. I think it has more to do with a lack of skills on how to deal with certain things (ie: Someone making a joke you are gay). Considering how anti-gay rural Indiana can be, has anyone ever thought the entire gay story is just cover to try to gain sympathy? I mean, we have a victim who at least has a past history of drug use (I am guessing meth), said by others to be a current user, has been in jail for something, has a daughter with the name of "Day-z." They can't have seriously spelled it that way, could they have?

Wilson46201 said...

At one time, seeing a Black man ogling a white girl might have precipitated murder but with an 'excuse' of being so upset at seeing such an allegedly unnatural and immoral scene. "Gay fright" sounds about as feeble and weak ... and should be just as outdated as a legal excuse!

Anonymous said...

Mike/Columbus

To me, the photo the "good ol boys" took of themselves with their handywork speaks volumn to the fact that this was indeed a hate crime. I'm assuming, Hendricks probably took the photo because in one of the newspaper articles it described the photo as being the other two criminals holding Hall up with their hands. Someone else must have taken the photo (Hendricks)

There is no doubt in my mind it was a hate crime.

mre said...

The "gay panic" defense might be a leg to stand on, but, it should be the DEFENSE team standing on that leg. In this case, it appears that this line of defense has been handed to the boys by the very people responsible for prosecuting them.
Oddly, Coleman King insinuates that Garrett Gray may have shot Hall.
http://www.crothersville.net/times/050207_murder.htm
"It is not clear from the court document and the postmortem exam included in the affidavit did not indicate whether Hall's body had been shot. " So, why would the prosecuting team be be relaying to the public that Hall was beaten to death when the paperwork does not reveal a cause of death?
Well, that's really no more surprising than the fact that neither Goodin nor Rumph called you back.

Anonymous said...

Hall should have never done what he did and he should have never said a word bout garrets mother you see this isnt a hate crime this was halls fault and he had his own punishment....I kno everyone of them and ive hung out with all of them and they have never resorted to violence unless it was asked for....thats all i got to say

Anonymous said...

Hall should have never done what he did and he should have never said a word bout garrets mother you see this isnt a hate crime this was halls fault and he had his own punishment....I kno everyone of them and ive hung out with all of them and they have never resorted to violence unless it was asked for....thats all i got to say

Anonymous said...

MURDER IS MURDER! I KNOW IN MY HEART THAT THOSE BOYS WILL PAY FOR WHAT THEY DONE IN ,OUT IT DOESN'T MATTER! AARON WASN'T JUST A PERSON TO BE MESSED WITH!JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL!WORD!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I may be driving right by this town in about 2 weeks when I go back to visit the heartland and drive from Bloomington to Knoxville. Is there anything I could do, as Jane Citizen driving through, to let these people know the world is watching and cares about this crime?

SHORTYS' SOULMATE said...

I AM SABRENA.AARONS DAUGHTERD MOM! TO THOSE SIMPLE MINED PEOPLE WHO SAY HE DESERVED WHAT HE GOT. DO YOU BELIEVE IN GOD? MAYBE YOU SHOULD PICK UP YOUR BIBLE AND READ WHAT HAPPENS TO MURDERS WHEN THEY DIE!! HEAVEN?HELL? AARON WAS NOT GAY! SO WHEN YOU SAY AARON WAS THIS AARON WAS THAT ,MAYBE YOU SHOULDVE KNOWN AARON FIRST!!!THESE BOYS HAVE BEEN KNOWN TO BEAT MANY OTHER PEOPLE AND NEVER GOT CAUGHT!!SO I HOPE THEY ROUGHT IN PRISON!!AS IM SURE THEY'LL ENJOY THIER TRIP!!!!WORD!