Bil Browning

Indianapolis Star discovers the Aaron Hall murder

Filed By Bil Browning | August 21, 2007 12:26 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Media, Politics
Tags: Aaron Hall, Advance Indiana, hate crimes against LGBT people, Indiana, Indianapolis Star, murder, police

After extensive coverage in the blogosphere, the Indianapolis Star has finally done a story on the horrific murder of Aaron Hall in Crothersville, Indiana. While some have attempted to label the gruesome killing a hate crime, I've resisted the urge in favor of waiting for the facts to come out. It's starting to look as if I was correct - it isn't a hate crime at all.

Aaron Hall's killing soon became used as a key example of a brutal act motivated by hate in one of the few states without a hate crimes law calling for tougher sentences in attacks sparked by race or perceived sexual orientation.

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."

See after the jump for more from the story...

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.
Stories in Crothersville and Jackson County newspapers didn't dwell on the sexual comments in the affidavit.

But Indiana-based bloggers soon began calling Hall's killing a hate crime, often quoting from a summary of the affidavit posted online by the Crothersville Times.

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.

Detective Henley said others' insistence on calling it a hate crime has been frustrating.

"Everybody kind of took off and ran with it," he said.

Blogs based outside Indiana began linking to news stories and posts by Welsh and others, broadening the case's impact.

Geography matters little as the Internet creates new channels for news stories to gain notice, said John Horrigan, an associate director of research for the Pew Internet Project in Washington, D.C. "People are consuming the content of the blogosphere and commenting on it and increasing the velocity of buzz about specific topics," he said.

In June, the Washington Blade, a gay weekly in Washington, D.C., published a story comparing Hall's case with the death of Matthew Shepard, the gay college student beaten to death in 1998 in Wyoming, referring to a "sexual proposition" as the impetus in Hall's death.

Welsh's blog continues to call Hall's death a "hate crime killing" in most posts, and he's not alone.

Indianapolis blogger and gay-rights activist Bil Browning, who runs, has written about Hall's killing, including his reluctance to call it a hate crime until more is known.

But in an interview, he wouldn't criticize others who have gone further. That's what blogs are for, he said: asking questions, tracking stories, speculating about their future.

"There's nothing wrong with sounding the alarm," Browning said. "Nothing at all."

As I said in my earlier posts that got so much attention for not jumping on the hate crime bandwagon, there are too many unknowns in this case to make it the poster child for sexual orientation hate crimes. While we may never know all of the truth about that night, it is refreshing to hear that the accused do not plan to use gay panic as a defense for killing Aaron Hall.

And hate crime or not, Indiana still needs to catch up with the rest of the nation by immediately implementing a hate crimes law. The sidebar to the article contains a short clip about another - real - hate crime that happened while the proposed hate crime bill was languishing in the Statehouse. This is the first time the Star has mentioned that crime as well. If folks are looking for an example of hate crimes in Indiana, that's the story to examine - a homeless black man that gets beaten severely in the middle of downtown streets by skinheads screaming racial epithets. Maybe soon the blogosphere will light up with stories about this crime, but I doubt it.

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Denise Travers | August 21, 2007 3:48 PM

Thanks for posting this, Bil.

Working on this case has been such a challenge. So much "he said, she said" going on in C'ville, soooooo much speculation (and not just on the blogosphere), so many conflicting stories.

And, for me, the everpresent fear that -- as an amateur, volunteer "journalist" -- I might reveal or print something that could damage the prosecution's case against King, Coleman and Hendricks.

Your site is well-visited, so I for one am appreciative that you're still following up, keeping the story alive. All the best for you.

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

Dare I have commented in just this manner everytime it comes up with Welsh?