The story of a horrifying murder in
rural Indiana has begun making the
rounds of the blogs, where it's being
compared to the crucifixion of Matthew
But the story's twists and
turns, as disgusting as they are tragic,
have gone largely unreported outside
Daily Kos and
Towleroad and a crusading local
paper in Indiana, the
And therein hangs a tale.
The victim in this new outrage wasn't
called Aaron 'Shorty' Hall for nothing.
Shorty was 5-foot-4 and weighed a mere
100 pounds. In beefy rural Indiana, that
passes for almost invisible.
On April 12, Shorty was allegedly
beaten to death by Coleman King, 18, and
Garrett Gray, 19. They subsequently
confessed to police that the beating
began when Shorty allegedly made a gay
pass at them while they were all
drinking beer at Gray's home.
The description of what happened next
is horrific, a savage assault that
eerily echoes the tortuous death of
Matthew Shepard. This time it took the
form of a relentless beating that went
on for several hours at Gray's house
before Shorty was finally dragged down
the wooden stairs, his head banging
loudly on each step.
King and Gray told cops they beat
Hall again at the bottom of the stairs,
threw him into a pickup truck and
continued beating him as they drove down
a remote dirt road.
Once there, one of them had the
audacity to send a friend a cellphone
photo of the dying Shorty. Then they
dumped him, naked but still alive, in a
ditch. According to weather reports, it
was 39 degrees that night.
The next morning they returned and
found Shorty's broken and lifeless body
in a field near the ditch. He had
apparently crawled out for help, found
none, and died alone in the dirt.
A few days later they returned,
wrapped the body in a tarp and hid it in
Gray's garage, where police found it
after being alerted by the recipient of
the cellphone photo.
A sensational torture/murder hate
crime like this seems like a slam dunk
for major media attention, but so far it
has received almost none.
Perhaps part of the reason is one of
the case's odd twists: Some have
publicly suggested that in fact Shorty
made no sexual advance on Gray and King
and that he was not, in fact, gay.
Instead, it's been suggested that the
two teens cooked up the gay angle
because they believed that in
homo-hating Indiana, it would help
excuse their murder.
In the twisted teenage wasteland of
their minds, the theory goes, the
so-called 'gay panic' defense is still
operative in Indiana: If you simply say
your murder victim made a queer pass at
you, you'll probably get off lightly.
It's impossible to tell if this
version is true. But that's no reason
for the media to ignore this story. In
fact, in a weird way the tale is at
least as significant if Shorty was not
The reason begins with the fact that
Indiana remains one of just five states
that refuses to enact a hate crimes
bill. Why? Because such a bill would
cover -- you guessed it -- gays.
The latest version failed in the
state legislature again this February,
and the executive director of the
antigay American Family Association of
Indiana, Micah Clark, credited
"concerned Christians" with scuttling
If such Christians hadn't furiously
lobbied the Indiana Statehouse about
this bill, Clark said, it "would have
passed easily." He smugly added, "The
good guys won on this issue."
Shorty Hall's lonely death indicates
I'm not suggesting that if Indiana
had passed a hate crimes bill last
February then this horrific murder would
not have happened. But I am suggesting
what law schools have taught for
generations: "The law is a great
One of the reasons for hate crimes
laws is to teach: to send a powerful
lesson that the kind of savage bigotry
that leads to violence and murder based
on race, ethnicity and other factors --
including sexual orientation -- is a
profound offense against the moral
foundations of our society.
Hate crime laws send the lesson that
violators will not be treated more
lightly for such crimes, as they
traditionally were, but punished more
When a state like Indiana stands
almost alone by refusing to send such a
message, it unavoidably sends the
opposite message. And in rural Indiana
it does so in a place teeming with
vengeful right wing Christians who
continue to infect the young with a vile
hatred of gays. That leads to a
So in this tragic case, whether
Shorty was gay or not, or made a pass or
not, isn't the larger point.
The larger point is that Shorty's
killers appear to have imbibed a
profound lesson from the homo-hating
Christians of their state and the
simpering cowards in their state
legislature, who would apparently pass a
hate crimes bill "easily" if it didn't
include the gays despised by so-called
That lesson is this: If a queer comes
on to you in Indiana and you kill him,
pipe up about it because you just might
get a pass. And hey, if you happen to
kill someone who isn't queer, just call
him queer anyway and you still might get
Concerned Christians in Indiana may
have no problem with that. But I'm
betting that Jesus would take a dimmer