Monday, August 20, 2007

Star Weighs In On Aaron Hall Case

The Indianapolis Star, after taking a beating by this blog and others for failng to cover what I believe was a hate crime, has finally run a story four months after the beating death of Aaron Hall in Crothersville took place. I suspect nobody is more disappointed in the story than its author, reporter Jon Murray. I say that because I know he was working on a story which touched on far more than the obviously heavily-edited version which wound up in the paper. The story talks about the debate that has ensued since Aaron Hall's beating death last April on the question of whether it was a hate crime and the role blogs have played in fueling a nationwide debate on the case, drawing similarities between this killing and the highly-publicized Matthew Shepard case.

His story, however, omits the more graphic details of the crime as detailed in video-taped confessions of the accused and key eyewitnesses. There is no mention one of the accused is the son of a former deputy coroner and special deputy in Jackson County, and that the home where the beating took place and the body was later stashed was owned by his father. Or that it was that same father who served as spokesman for the highly-publicized killing of Katie Coleman just a couple of years ago. While the story notes Hall's nickname was "Shorty", it omits the fact that the 5'3" man was beaten for hours by two men who were much bigger than him ala Matthew Shepard. There is no discussion about the fact Indiana has no hate crimes law and that the killing took place just weeks after the legislature ended a session during which hate crimes legislation was defeated and the religious right had fueled an anti-gay culture in Indiana with a campaign laced with homobigoted rhetoric to defeat the legislation. A side bar to the story provides some statistical information on hate crimes, but omitted data showing the problem to be worse in Indiana than the nation as a whole. The side bar also only provides a very brief mention of the Dexter Lewis beating case in Indianapolis during which a black man was severely beaten in front of dozens of witnesses in downtown by white supremacists near the same time as the Hall killing.

According to Hall's story, his defense attorney is claiming the beating death was not a hate crime. Even the police and prosecution is concurring with that assessment. Murray writes:

But police say the evidence has led them elsewhere.

"They basically said it was a drunken fight that got way out of hand," said Detective Robert Henley of the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, who took part in the interviews of both suspects, Coleman M. King, 18, and Garret L. Gray, 19. "I really don't think this was a hate crime."

It's impossible to know what the men were thinking that night. But from the start, relatives insisted that Hall, who had a daughter from a nine-year relationship with a woman, wasn't gay and knew the suspects.

King's attorney, Joseph Leon Payne, agrees with the detective's assessment of King's mind-set and says the men never meant to kill Hall. "Their intent was not to drop him off to leave him to die," Payne said. "It was to leave him out there to scare him, and then bring him back."

Once they found him dead, he said, they panicked . . .

The detective said those who cited the suspects' statements from a probable cause affidavit as evidence of a hate crime had ignored the context.

According to the document, Gray told police that "Shorty reached out and grabbed the testicles of King. Gray said Shorty then asked questions regarding whether King has homosexual tendencies. Gray said these comments caused King to physically assault Shorty."

Hall drank beer and whiskey for hours with Gray, King and at least one other man, Henley said. Hall's comment to King ignited the beating, he said, but the suspects indicated Hall meant it as a taunt, not as a sexual proposition.

The affidavit also mentions insults about Gray's mother, who had been dead several years. "There was going to be a fight that night," Henley said . . .

King's trial still is set for Dec. 18, and Payne hopes to work out a plea deal. Gray's trial is set for Oct. 16; his attorney, John Plummer III, Bedford, declined to comment.

Payne said King felt genuine remorse about Hall's death.

"It's somebody he's known all his life, somebody he was buddies with."

King's attorney hopes to work out a plea deal before his trial? One of my biggest complaints about this case from the beginning has been the fact that a case which clearly supports a murder charge was dual-charged with a lesser crime of manslaughter from day one by the prosecution. How can two much larger men beat a 5'3" man for hours, ask him if he wants to die tonight and when he replies in the negative, you continue to beat him, dump his naked body on a cold night in a ditch on a secluded farm lane and return hours later to make sure he's dead. If a plea deal were reached in this case, the accused could serve as little as 6 years for this gruesome crime.

Murray includes comments from the interview he did with me. He writes, "Gary Welsh, an Indianapolis lawyer who runs a blog called Advance Indiana, said in an interview that the case immediately seemed 'a classical hate crime' because of the severe beating and the suspects' statements." "If Hall wasn't gay, Welsh and others speculated that the two suspects intended to use a 'gay panic' defense, maintaining they were so shocked by what they perceived as an advance that they attacked Hall." "King's attorney has since said his client does not plan such a defense."

For your convenience, I've listed below a number of the posts Advance Indiana has published on the Aaron Hall killing in chronological order:

Crothersville Man Brutally Killed Because Attackers Thought He Was Gay
Hate Crime Outrage: Accomplice Charged With Class C Felony
Hall's Alleged Killer Is Deputy Coroner's Son
Aaron Hall: An Easy Victim
In Their Own Words: Aaron Hall's Killer Describe The Gruesome Details
Why Won't The Star Cover The Hate Crime Killing of Aaron Hall?
Holladay: Aaron Hall Killed Twice, Second Time By Media
Aaron Hall Killer Seeks Bail
Another Strange Twist In Aaron Hall Hate Crime Murder Case
Bloomington Alternative And Daily Kos Ponder Lack of Media Attention For Hall Killing
Aaron Hall Update: Coleman King Trial Continued


Anonymous said...

"It's impossible to know what the men were thinking that night. "

Priceless, right out of the AFA playbook.

Anonymous said...

Here is the email I sent to the writer of the newspaper story about Mr. Aaron Hall, Jon Murray:

"What a biased piece of crap you wrote. Of course the defense attorney in the case will state that a crime with lesser consequences (real or perceived) occurrred rather than a more serious one. Isn't that the PR job of a good defense attorney? What did you expect him to say?

What you sadly overlook is that crimes of rage don't last for hours and don't involve torture. If, however, you had bothered to look at some hate crime murders of years past (whether due to sexual orientation bias or racial bias) you'd have seen that those victims are often kept alive, sometimes barely alive, for a while, while their tormentors have their way with their victim (remember Mr. Byrd in Texas?). A simple crime of rage does not typically result in the photographing of the victim. In the Hall case, however, trophy photos were apparently taken, another sign of a crime not fueled by alcohol-based rage, but rather a more callous, planful, hate-filled one.

From the slant of your article--one with not a lick of research into hate crime murder victims...hey why bother?--I'm guessing you don a white robe when you aren't writing drivel, or at least silently supporting those who do."

I blocked Murray from answering my email, because who has time to press the delete button of a bigot's email, let alone read it? Not I.

Let's do the math here, shall we:

The best research available indicates gay people make up about 4% of the population. That means that heterosexual people outnumber gay folks in the United States by a ratio of 24:1. So far this year, the U.S. has seen seven homicides belived to be due to sexual orientation bias. All involved male victims. So, if heterosexual males were being murdered at the same rate as gay men (or men believed to be gay) have been this year, then we should have seen 168 heterosexual men murdered this year by gay men, solely due to their heterosexual orientation. That translates to 21 murders per month every month thus far this year. If such a sick tragedy occurred, you can bet the good folks at the Indy Times, like Jon Murray, would be screaming that gay men are on a murderous rampage against straight men. They'd call it a genocide in the making.

Gary R. Welsh said...

anon 8:04, I don't think it's fair in this case to blame Murray. I know enough about him to know that he didn't get to write the story he would have chosen to write. This is the story his editor wanted him to write.

Anonymous said...

I'll respectfully disagree with you about Mr. Murray's responsibility for the article he penned (or at least the one he signed his name to). I, like other readers, know him from his writing; that's the reputation every journalist creates, plain and simple. Mr. Murray apparently has rationalized things such that he can write a biased article for the world to read, one with major holes in it yet slick enough to deceive some, and sleep well at night. Maybe the IndyStar needs a new editor, if that person essentially told Mr. Murray what to write, as you have suggested. What is certain is that Mr. Murray needs to find a new newspaper to write for, IF he is as decent as you claim.

In the meantime, I'll stick with what I know: journalists are responsible for the articles that have their names attached to them, and it is fair to blame them for slanted works that bear their names. Mr. Murray's article about the Aaron Hall murder was just awful, and it sits forever in Mr. Murray's public resume. Shame on him.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that police claim alcohol-but not drugs-played an important role in Hall's death. Remeber Denise Traver's article in which residents claim that the Gray home was something of a teen drug haven?
Ironic no mention of Terry Gray being the owner of the home in which the body was found. He was indeed the spokesperson for the family of Katie Collman. We had to hush the drug references in that case as well.
Then you get the actual coroner of Jackson County posting here claiming that Gray had not worked in his office for over a year. As if that justifies not being able to smell the body. But then again a local police officer who searched the Gray home two days prior to finding Hall could not smell the body either. That man was an uncle to Chuckie Hickman, the man who originally confessed to the Collman murder.
I smell something funny, and I'm not even a deputy coroner.

Anonymous said...

Drugs have played no part in any of the murders in Jackson County over the last couple of years.
In this article it appears that authorities are quite dismayed at the attention given this crime through the blogs and are now trying to say that it was alcohol that inspired this beating. They further remark that it was Thomas Hall who initiated this entire "hate crime" take on the murder. But, that isn't true. Crothersville residents explained to reporters that the perpetrators of this crime were spreading rumors that Hall was gay and had aids before his body was even found. They apparently were planning their "gay panic" defense prior to their arrests.
I see that Garrett Gray has retained John Plummer III as his defense attorney. This should be interesting. He was the defense attorney for Chuckie Hickman - the man who made a false confession in the Collman case (in which drugs played no part). He was also the defense attorney for Uriah Clouse - a man who was implicated in yet another false confession in the Behrman case. Maybe we'll find that Mr. Gray as well has simply made a false confession.

Anonymous said...

Terry Gray was instrumental in aiding local authorities with their cover up of the Collman case. In return, his son is now getting leniency.