Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Judge Accepts Hall Killer's Manslaughter Plea Agreement

Jackson Circuit Court Judge Bill Vance agreed with county prosecutors that an 18-year-old man who brutally beat a 5'4", Aaron "Shorty" Hall and then dumped his nude body along a secluded farm road to die in the cold should be sentenced to just 30 years for voluntary manslaughter and not murder. With good time credit, Hall should be a free man in about 15 years. Coleman King's attorneys didn't even have to offer a single witness or a single piece of evidence to win this incredible plea agreement. Aubrey Woods of the Crothersville Times describes the courtroom scene at King's sentencing hearing:

During his plea hearing, King admitted to beating Hall to death. King said he became extremely irritated and angry when Hall questioned his sexuality and grabbed King’s crotch.

That incident occurred as the two drank beer and whiskey with Gray at Gray’s home, 6420 S. 1025E, Crothersville, according to court documents. King also admitted he kicked Hall in the head more than one time after Hall was taken to a rural Crothersville area and left on the ground near Cinder Road.

King said he knew Hall might die if he kicked him in the head with his cowboy boots. King and Gray later retrieved Hall’s body from a field near where he was left and took it back to Gray’s home.

Police found Hall’s body wrapped in a blue tarp behind cabinets in the garage on April 24. Police found the body after an investigation began when Hall was reported missing by an acquaintance.

Sabrina Baker, the mother of Hall’s 10-year-old daughter, also testified during Tuesday’s sentencing hearing. “You permanently damaged her,” Baker said of her daughter. “All she has left of him now is pictures and memories. Shorty was so much to so many people. Now all we have is to visit his grave.”

King’s attorney, Joseph Payne, called no witnesses or presented any evidence or statements during the hearing, which lasted less than 10 minutes.

Payne declined to comment after the hearing.

After the hearing, Deputy Prosecutor Amy Travis said the family was in agreement with the plea deal and that she always tries to go along with wishes of the family if they fall within the scope of the law.

Wood's story omits the fact that King just didn't kick Hall in the head once with his boot, but more than 70 times he used a boot to strike Hall's body. The beating took place over a several hour period according to the killer's own confessions. It is beyond human understanding that the Hall family would accept this pathetic plea agreement. I'm not even going to begin to understand this place called Jackson County, Indiana. What happened in that courtroom today is an affront to the American criminal justice system. Matthew Shepard's killers tried to use a gay panic defense in Wyoming to escape a more serious murder charge. Wyoming courts wouldn't allow it. In Hall's case, the defense attorneys claim they weren't invoking any gay panic defense, but clearly prosecutors felt that a Jackson County jury would be sympathetic to King's and his co-killer, Garrett Gray's statement that the beating which led to Hall's death happened because of a supposed unwanted sexual advance. There is absolutely nothing in their video-taped confessions which supports a theory of manslaughter. This was a cold-blooded murder and nothing less.

Illustrating the absurdity of today's 30-year sentence for King, today a Marion County judge sentenced Robert Quarles to 30 years in prison for trying to hire another person to kill his wife. Or take the case of 18-year-old Jamie Carson, grandson of the late U.S. Rep. Julia Carson. He received a 120-year prison term after he was found guilty in 1999 of several home invasions and a hate crime attack on two of his victims. The victims were two Hispanic men who were gay. Carson and his accomplices forced the two men to perform sex acts on each other at gunpoint, burned them with a steam iron, tied them together and taunted them with homophobic remarks. One of the men was forced to drink a mixture of urine and bleach. As bad as Quarles' and Carson's crimes were, their victims were not killed. In the case of Carson, he will spend the rest of his life in prison. Coleman King and Garrett Gray will be released when they are in their 30s, or about the same age as Aaron Hall was when they brutally ended his life.

Meanwhile, there may be some hope that Indiana will join the civilized world and enact a hate crimes law. For the second consecutive year, the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee has passed hate crimes legislation authored by Rep. Greg Porter, HB 1076, by a vote of 8-3. The bill is co-authored by two Republicans, 7th District congressional candidate Rep. Jon Elrod (R-Indianapolis) and Rep. Ralph Foley (R-Martinsville). Three Republicans on the committee voted against the bill, Rep. Eric Koch (R-Bedford), Rep. Greg Steuerwald (R-Danville) and Rep. John Ulmer (R-Goshen). Elrod was the only Republican on the committee who voted for HB 1076.

The so-called "bias crimes" legislation will allow judges to impose harsher sentences on persons who commit crimes against a person or their property because of their race, disability, national origin, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. All but five states in the nation have adopted this legislation in some form. The religious right has successfully defeated the legislation in the past by mounting bigoted attacks, which have been focused on the legislation's inclusion of "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" and give gays and cross-dressers "special rights." Ironically, the opponents claim it will infringe upon their "freedom of speech" and "freedom of religion" rights. These, of course, are the same people who are determined to write discrimination into our state's constitution against gays, lesbians and unmarried persons.


Anonymous said...

Awesome work in the House for those involved! Congrats to Greg Porter, Ralph Foley and Jon Elrod for moving HB1076 forward. The Senate will move on this soon, I hope.

Thanks for keeping us in the loop, Gary!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Gary, for continuing to cover this story. Many throughout the blogoshpere stopped covering Aaron's story when it became apparent that he was not gay. Others just stopped covering the story
Many in the area were very excited when the Bloomington Alternative picked up on this story. Finally, an unbiased reporter was coming to town. A reporter who was intelligent, striving to make a name for herself, and untouched by political influence.
The Alternative embarked on the Aaron Hall series with a vigor, then abruptly fell silent. Although they initially seemed outraged by the lack of media coverage given to this case, they stopped covering it as well. They've made no mention of Hall in more than seven momths. One would have thought that they would have at least mentioned the ridiculous plea agreements entered by the Hall's killers in early January.
So where did they go? What silenced them?
Maybe Denise went too far when she mentioned drugs, murder, and Jackson County all in the same story. Maybe she found out just how accurate she was when she said:
"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."

Gary R. Welsh said...

anon 8:44, I hear what you are saying about Jackson County. It doesn't excuse the silence to this outrage coming from the rest of the state. This crime is truly a black eye on Indiana as a society. Perhaps we haven't progressed as much from our KKK days of the early 1900s as we would like to think.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:44, I'd be happy to email with you about the in's and out's of my coverage with the BA. I don't think it's appropriate, however, to do so here in Gary's blog.

Feel free to email me at:

Anonymous said...

Also, Gary: in your first paragraph, you wrote: "With good time credit, Hall should be a free man in about 15 years."

I think you mean King. FYI.

Anonymous said...

Now it seems another reporter is covering the Hall story:
Looks like Denise did get too close to telling the real story about Jackson County.