Sunday, June 17, 2007

Jackson County Coroner Releases Few Details On Aaron Hall's Death

Advance Indiana received a statement today from Jackson Co. Coroner Andy Rumph concerning the official cause of Aaron Hall's death. It suggests that if anyone had sought help for Hall after he was dumped in a ditch along a secluded farm road by his attackers, he might have had a chance of surviving the brutal beating he endured at the hands of Garrett Gray and Coleman King, who claim the beating occurred after Hall made a sexual advance towards King. That's because hypothermia played a role in Hall's death on April 12. Indiana's weather took a turn for the cold around the time of Hall's killing, with temperatures dropping below freezing over a several day period. Rumph tells Advance Indiana:

The finding from the autopsy report showed death as a result of blunt force trauma as a result of beating with hypothermia as a contributing cause. No other information is being released without court order.
Rumph's statement puts to rest whether the shots fired from a shotgun owned by Garrett Gray were aimed at Hall's body. According to a probable cause affidavit, Gray and Hall's other accused killer, Coleman King, returned to the site where Hall's body was dumped because Gray told King they had to make sure Hall was dead or they would go to jail. King remained in the pickup truck in which they were riding while Gray got out of the pickup and fired two shots into the woods. Hall's dead, nude body was discovered in a nearby field the next day by a friend of Gray's and King's, John Hodge. It appears Hall crawled from the ditch where his body was dumped to the field. Hodge said Hall's clothing were in the ditch where another accomplice, James Hendrix, said the body was dumped. Hodge and Hendrix had gone to the scene so Hendrix could retrieve Hall's camouflage coat, which Hendrix liked. Gray and King would later return to the scene, wrap Hall's body in a blue tarp and hide it in Gray's garage where police discovered it, acting on a tip from Hodge.

Meanwhile, Denise Travers, another citizen blogger, has been on the scene gathering additional information from friends and family members down in Jackson County. She has posted some new information on Bloomington Alternative's site. Advance Indiana previously alluded to Hall having spent some time in prison on drug-related charges based on an interview with a family friend. Travers very bluntly assesses Hall's past criminal history. "Aaron Hall was a petty criminal with a long arrest record," she writes. "He was a meth user and an alcoholic." "Over the course of his life, Aaron had spent nearly 10 years in prison or in jail, in stints from a few months to a few years." But Hall's death is a loss to family and friends as she relates:

But, like the fortunate among us, Aaron nevertheless had people who cared deeply about him. His mother, Martha. His brother, Tom. His daughter, Dae Z Mae. His friends. His former lovers. Aaron’s humble Brownstown gravesite is lovingly festooned with flowers, award ribbons, cards and a lone cigarette; the grave bears no stone yet, just a simple aluminum marker. Terrifying visions of Aaron Hall’s spilled blood will remain in the memory of many – those who witnessed his beatings first-hand, and those who are haunted by their own terrible imaginations. Regardless of his criminal status, regardless of his seemingly dissolute life, regardless of whether his murder was a hate crime or not – Aaron Hall did not deserve to die the way he did.
Travers article discusses a Myspace site of Hall's. I checked the site out over a month ago based on a tip from a reader. I was reluctant to rely on anything posted there because it had been updated after Hall's death. Hall professed on the site not to want any children, but we know he left behind a daughter. She notes that Hall describes himself as a "Stone Temple Pilot looking for Alice in Chains." Somebody is going to have to help me out on what that is supposed to mean.

Travers discusses the raging debate over whether Hall's killing was truly a hate crime because people who knew Hall claimed he wasn't gay. She believes, as I do, it is irrelevant to speculate on what his actual sexual orientation based on the accused's own explanation for their deadly actions. She writes:

Indeed, all these questions point to an important distinction in reference to discussion of hate crimes: the perception of a person’s sexual identity may be just as inciting of violence to some as the real demonstration of a minority sexual proclivity. In truth, it is irrelevant to speculate on Aaron’s sexual orientation. Whether he was gay or not is immaterial: the defendants themselves, in sworn statements, invoked the "gay panic" defense. They are the ones who opened the door to questions of whether Aaron’s murder is a hate crime or not.

Travers also discusses speculation around Crothersville that the public is not being told the truth about the circumstances surrounding Hall's death. This speculation is fueled by the fact that one of Hall's killer's, Garrett Gray, is the son of Deputy Coroner Terry Gray. It is in Gray's home where Hall was beaten and it was in his detached garage where police found Hall's body nearly 10 days after he was killed. Travers writes:



As ever, the truth – if we can ever know it completely – likely lies somewhere in between the extremes. Sources in Crothersville indicate that the circumstances of Aaron’s murder are significantly different than what has been reported in local media. They knowingly imply just how much can be concocted in 10 days – the length of time between Aaron’s death and the official discovery of his body in the garage of Terry Gray, deputy Jackson County coroner and father of Garret Gray, one of the defendants. They indicate that a sexual advance was involved -- not toward King, but toward his girlfriend. They state that – contrary to sworn affidavits – there were other witnesses of Aaron’s murder: indeed, some have indicated that the Gray household was something of a teen drug haven, and that at the time of the first punch to Aaron’s body, some number of other teenagers were present.

The influence of power cannot be ignored, either. Hushed tones accompany the mention of certain names, and the ever-present buzz of fear has residents considering using false names or refusing, outright, to speak on record. In a town where so many cling to their personal salvation through Jesus Christ, the landscape of Crothersville, Indiana is ironically godforsaken. Most are afraid to go on the record, for fear that local law enforcement will remember the indignity and further abuse their power through false arrests, trumped-up charges, botched investigations and abject corruption. Each and every Crothersville resident willing to comment about Aaron’s murder has his or her own horror story about Jackson County. Many have had personal run-ins with the law. The stories of prejudice, intolerance and narrow-mindedness are legion. In a town the size of Crothersville, social capital is a powerful weapon. Everyone knows who wields the power. Everyone knows who the important families are. Everyone knows who to call to get meth. Everyone knows everyone’s family, history, darkest hours. You don’t cross those who are in power. Period.

Travers acknowledges that a hate crime law would not have prevented Hall's death, and I don't disagree with that. She does point out that if the federal hate crimes law had been law at the time of his death, federal assistance would have been available to help carry out a less biased inquiry into his death. Travers writes:



And this is the real irony of Aaron’s story: if the Matthew Shepard Act (also known as the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act) had already been in place, Hall’s family could have sought federal assistance in the investigation. They could have relied upon federal examiners to carry out a more unbiased inquiry. They could have hoped that Aaron's brutal murder could serve the greater good -- that we all could learn about bias-motivated violence through an outsider's lens. Who ever could have thought that the senseless murder of a 64-inch tall man could have such a potentially powerful impact on federal public policy? The Senate has yet to vote
on S.1105 -- could Aaron's death help provide justice in the future? No, the Matthew Shepard Act could not have prevented Aaron's murder -- but it could have helped reveal the true causes.

Because, the truth is this: it is in human nature to deceive, to evade responsibility, to hate. This simple fact colors Aaron's murder itself, the coverage (or lack thereof) of the crime, the presence or absence of local outrage in Jackson County, everything. Federal hate crimes legislation already exits. Could there be a more poignant example of the need to include sexual orientation and gender in its protections? Aaron Hall, indeed, is the poster child for inclusion of gay-motivated violence in federal hate crimes legislation, perhaps even more so than Matthew Shepard. The conditions of Aaron's life, the facts and myths about his death – so much could have been discovered, were it that gays were as important as racial minorities, religious minorities and others who are already protected under federal law.

Travers should be applauded for taking time as a citizen journalist to bring out more about the facts and circumstances surrounding Hall's death, something our mainstream media has shamelessly avoided doing.

People have asked me why Indiana's GLBT community, despite its recent failed efforts to win approval of a state hate crimes law, has been totally silent about Hall's death. It has been suggested to me that Hall is simply not an attractive victim like Matthew Shepard is and so they don't want to embrace it as a cause. Perhaps that is the case. I tend to think it is ineptidude. They similarly ignored a robbing and brutal attack here in Indianapolis several years ago of a gay couple, which prosecutors described as a hate crime, presumably because one of the accused was a nephew of U.S. Rep. Julia Carson (D), who has been supportive of GLBT issues. Police say Jamie Carson and two accomplices forced the men at gunpoint to perform sex acts on each other. The victims were tied up and burned with a steam iron. One was forced to drink a mixture of bleach and urine.

It should not be surprising to anyone that Advance America and the American Family Association of Indiana had inundated areas like Jackson County with homo-bigoted e-mails urging folks to contact their legislators to vote against the hate crimes law and for the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages in the weeks leading up to Hall's killing on April 12. The religous right is creating a culture here in Indiana which only fosters hate crimes against Indiana's gay and lesbian citizens.

15 comments:

Denise Travers said...

*chuckles*

The "Stone Temple Pilots" and "Alice in Chains" were both popular bands in the 90's. Think "grunge."

The significance of this "quote" of Aaron's is that he's (rather cleverly) indicated that he's a hetero man seeking a hetero woman.

Thanks for the link up, and for the updated coroner's report. Your own dedication to this story continues to be inspiring.

Advance Indiana said...

Thank you, Denise. Your work is equally admirable.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't draw any conclusions form the mention of the bands.

But what's the deal with the coroner saying he won't release any more details without a court order. Is the law different in Jackson County?

Coroners are elected public officials. Their work product is public record.

Strange.

GaryJ said...

817.. some things are better left unknown.
For the protection of the family and (no pun intended) not to insult to injury!

I disagree with hate crimes. If you dislike someone, it should be for reasons other than biggotry or just plain ignorance.

Denise Travers said...

8:17 - the contents of the coroner's report are of particular interest b/c there are allegations that other weapons were used besides those that King and Gray admitted to using. I'm not particularly surprised that the coroner would claim the right to withold the report; I'm going to request a copy anyway on my next trip.

It's funny. You have to go up to the top story to get the official reports, but then you have to go to another office one floor down to pay for them before you can exit. Ah, how I love small town courthouses.

garyj: the family already has a copy of the coroner's report, so the absence of full disclosure is not for any protection of them. And while I certainly agree with your repudiation of hate crimes, I'm not so sure about your logic.

I think one remarkable thing that this case does is provide us all with an opportunity to re-examine our thoughts about crime, gays, freedoms, truth, and death. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Every day that the full details of this case are not known, has to be another day of agony for this poor family. I pray for them nightly.

It is fairly apparent that this young man died a horrile, violent and slow death. For loved ones, nothing could be more hurtful and agonizing.

Who's left to protect by withholding information? Is the coroner allowed uner Indiana law to withhold such information, and if so, at what times and udner what circumstances?

forensicdoc said...

Actually, the only thing that is public record from the Coroner is cause and manner of death. Anything else is NOT public record and available only through a court-ordered subpoena. The Coroner's office is required to release the final report to one of only 3 persons. The immediate next-of-kin, the insurance company(ies), and the prosecutor's office. This is clearly defined by state statute. So, before accusing the county coroner of a cover-up, a review of state law would be most prudent.

Anonymous said...

Forensic doc, I wasn't accusing, just asking...and if someone could please cite the statute, it would be helpful. Frankly, I don't believe it. It flies in the face of the public records laws, and it also sounds like one of those things that, the more often it's repeated, takes on a life of its own.

I think it's public record unless the prosecutor needs some piece for court proceedings, in which case, I beleive, the prosecutor goes to court and specifically blocks a particular coroner's report from being released, in full or partially. Could be wrong. There's usually some smart and quick-clicking reader here who pastes and copies pertinent statutes. Very helpful soul(s).

And are you sure there's a statute that allows or requires the coroner to release anything to an insurance company? On what authority--just sending a letter saying "we are the life insurer and we want your records" ? There's a slippery slope. Or my healthy distrust of all insurers.

On the other hand, it's all public record, as I suspect, no harm, no foul...

Advance Indiana said...

IC 36-2-14-10
Coroner's verdict and report; autopsy records; confidentiality
Sec. 10. (a) After viewing the body, hearing the evidence, and making all necessary inquiries, the coroner shall draw up and sign his verdict on the death under consideration. The coroner shall also make a written report giving an accurate description of the deceased person, his name if it can be determined, and the amount of money and other property found with the body. The verdict and the written report are subject to inspection and copying under IC 5-14-3-3.
(b) Except as provided in subsections (c), (d), and (e), a photograph, video recording, or audio recording of an autopsy in the custody of a medical examiner is declared confidential for purposes of IC 5-14-3-4(a)(1).
(c) A surviving spouse may:
(1) view and copy a photograph or video recording; and
(2) listen to and copy an audio recording;
of the deceased spouse's autopsy. If there is no surviving spouse, the surviving parents shall have access to the records under this section. If there is no surviving spouse or parent, an adult child shall have access to the records.
(d) Upon making a written request, a unit (as defined in IC 36-1-2-23), the state, an agency of the state, the federal government, or an agency of the federal government, while in performance of their official duty, may:
(1) view and copy a photograph or video recording; and
(2) listen to and copy an audio recording;
of an autopsy. Unless otherwise required in the performance of official duties, the identity of the deceased must remain confidential.
(e) The coroner or the coroner's designee having custody of a photograph, a video recording, or an audio recording of an autopsy may use or allow the use of the photograph, video recording, or audio recording of the autopsy for case consultation with a pathologist or forensic scientist. The coroner or the coroner's designee having custody of a photograph, a video recording, or an audio recording of an autopsy may also use or allow the use of the photograph, video recording, or audio recording for training or educational purposes (as defined in IC 16-39-7.1-1.5) if all information that identifies the individual on whom the autopsy was performed is masked or removed from the photograph, video recording, or audio recording. For purposes of this subsection, information that identifies an individual consists of:
(1) the name;
(2) the address;
(3) the Social Security number;
(4) a full view of the face; or
(5) identifying marks on the body that are unrelated to the medical condition or medical status;


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
of the deceased individual. A coroner or coroner's designee who allows the use of autopsy information under this subsection has a duty to disclose to each person to whom the coroner or coroner's designee releases it that the information is confidential and may not be used for a purpose other than the purpose for which it was originally released. Information disclosed under this subsection is confidential. A coroner or coroner's designee who fails to disclose the confidentiality restrictions of this information commits a Class A misdemeanor.
(f) Except as provided in subsection (e), the coroner or the coroner's designee having custody of a photograph, a video, or an audio recording of an autopsy may not permit a person to:
(1) view or copy the photograph or video recording; and
(2) listen to or copy the audio recording;
of an autopsy without a court order.
(g) A court, upon a showing of good cause, may issue an order authorizing a person to:
(1) view or copy a photograph or video recording; and
(2) listen to or copy an audio recording;
of an autopsy, and may prescribe any restrictions or stipulations that the court considers appropriate.
(h) In determining good cause under subsection (g), the court shall consider:
(1) whether the disclosure is necessary for the public evaluation of governmental performance;
(2) the seriousness of the intrusion into the family's right to privacy;
(3) whether the disclosure of the photograph, video recording, or audio recording is by the least intrusive means available; and
(4) the availability of similar information in other public records, regardless of form.
(i) In all cases, the viewing, copying, listening to, or other handling of a photograph, video recording, or audio recording of an autopsy must be under the direct supervision of the coroner, or the coroner's designee, who is the custodian of the record.
(j) A surviving spouse shall be given:
(1) reasonable notice of the petition filed with the court to view or copy a photograph or video recording of an autopsy or a petition to listen to or copy an audio recording;
(2) a copy of the petition filed with the court to view or copy a photograph or video recording of an autopsy or a petition to listen to or copy an audio recording; and
(3) reasonable notice of the opportunity to be present and heard at any hearing on the matter.
(k) If there is no surviving spouse, the notice under subsection (j) must be given to the deceased's parents, and if the deceased has no living parent, the notice must be given to the adult children of the deceased.
(l) A coroner or coroner's designee who:
(1) is the custodian of a photograph, a video recording, or an
audio recording of an autopsy; and
(2) knowingly or intentionally violates this section;
commits a Class A misdemeanor.
(m) A person who knowingly or intentionally violates a court order issued under this section commits a Class A misdemeanor.
(n) A person who:
(1) receives autopsy information under subsection (e); and
(2) knowingly or intentionally uses the information in a manner other than the specified purpose for which it was released;
commits a Class A misdemeanor.

forensicdoc said...

Proves my point exactly Gary. The final report is different from the verdict. The verdict itself is public record and includes decedent demographic(s), where body was found, who found the body, government agencies and officials at the scene and CAUSE AND MANNER of death. The specifics of the autopsy examination and final report are to be viewed only by the next of kin, any and all agencies investigating the death(ie investigatory evidence), and insurance compaines for the purpose of paying out death benefits in the case of suspected suicide vs. homicide vs accidental death. Obviously many life insurance policies will not pay out in the case of suicide, and MOST companies request a final report before processing benefit claims to next of kin.

Advance Indiana said...

Here is how a Public Access Counselor's opinion describes what the law requires:

Notwithstanding the investigatory records exception, certain information is required to be
disclosed when a coroner investigates a death. Under IC 36-2-14-18, certain information from
the investigation of the death, including the name, age, address, sex and race of the deceased,
among other things, must be disclosed. Also, information regarding the autopsy, limited to the date, the person who performed the autopsy, where the autopsy was performed, and a conclusion
as to the probable cause of death, the probable manner of death, and the probable mechanism of
death must be disclosed. IC 36-2-14-18(a)(5). A full copy of the autopsy report is not required
to be disclosed, pursuant to IC 36-2-14-18(c).

forensicdoc said...

Your opinion is Ã…BSOLUTELY correct Gary. The law is very clear and with HIPPA in place now, has become more restrictive. Remember, an autopsy is a medical procedure, and just like your medical records are confidential, so too are the medical records of the deceased.

Anonymous said...

I am the Coroner of Jackson County...and I just wanted to address a few things.

First, "ForensicDoc" is correct in that only certain information is a "public record". You also have to understand that the case is still being investigated which makes for good reason to keep information limited to those who need it.

I also want to address our investigation into this case. Indiana State Police and the Jackson County Sheriff's Department investigated all while the Deputy Prosecutor was on scene overseeing the investigation. Terry Gray was, in the past, a deputy coroner, however Terry has not investigated a death with our office in almost a year. It should also be noted that Terry was a Reserve Deputy with the Jackson County Sheriff's Department up until the time of this death.

Terry is a good man, has tried to be a good father after the death of his wife and the boys mother, and in no way should be held responsible for the action of his son or anyone else.

This was a tragedy for many people including Aaron's family and friends as well the family and friends of those arrested. We should all keep these people in our prayers.

Anonymous said...

Terry Gray also worked on your campaign for sheriff last year. The one Lahrman came from behind to win by a landslide because he was next in line for the throne.
If he is having trouble finding a job now that he is no longer working for the sheriff's department perhaps he should contact Tony Siedl with the Lawrence County Sheriff's department. While Siedl was an FBI agent, he and Terry Gray worked very well together in covering up another case in Jackson County. There are probably some things in Lawrence County that Gray could assist him with now.
Let's see now a good man who is trying to raise a family...dejavu. Those are the same words Tabitha Stockelman used to describe her husband before deciding that "DNA" evidence convinced her of his guilt.

Tabitha said...

I think that this leads to alot of questions that there is only one murderer in Crothersville , IN and it might not be Anthony Stockelman.
Tabitha Hardy- Stockelman