Durham, North Carolina – The leader of a religious group in Durham is being charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of 4-year-old Jadon Higganbothan, and of 27-year-old Antoinetta Yvonne McKoy by Durham County prosecutors. Higganbothan had last been seen alive in October 2010, and McKoy had been missing since December of the same year. WRAL.com reports that the remains of both victims were found last month buried behind a Durham home at 2622 Ashe Street. The remains might have gone undiscovered had a landlord not called a plumber to see what the overpowering smell emitting from the backyard of the house was. The plumbing crew called police when they uncovered the source of the odor, decoying human bodies. Peter Lucas Moses Jr., 27, the leader of a group calling themselves the “Black Hebrews,” allegedly shot the little boy because he saw him touch or slap the buttocks of another boy. According to testimony given in Durham County Court, Moses suspected that Higganbothan was gay because of his behavior, took the child into the basement of 2109 Pear Tree Lane in Durham, turned up loud music blaring the Lord’s Prayer in Hebrew, and shot him in the head. His remains were stuffed in a suitcase, and left on site until the smell became too strong, according to police sources. An informant told police investigators back in February of this year that both killings took place in the Pear Tree Lane house, where Moses lived with Vania Rae Sisk, 25, who is Jadon’s mother, Lavada Quinzetta Harris, 40, Larhonda Renee Smith, 40, and McKoy. The three surviving women have been indicted as accessories to murder after the fact in the slaying of young Jadon, and for murder in the killing of McKoy, as well. Besides the three women, who were considered common-law wives of Moses, Moses’ mother, Sheilda Evelyn Harris, 56, his brother, P. Leonard Moses, 21, and his sister, Sheila Falisha Moses, 20, have been indicted by Durham County prosecutors as accessories after the fact in McKoy’s murder, as well. The motive for McKoy’s murder proposed by prosecutors is that Moses eliminated her because she was “barren,” unable to become pregnant and bear children. The Black Hebrews believe they are directly descended from the ancient tribes of Israel. They teach that there is a coming great war between the races, and that Blacks will emerge triumphant by an act of God. Some members of the Moses family deny that they are members of the Black Hebrews, asserting only that they are “very religious.” The role McKoy may have played in the slaying of young Higganbothan and its aftermath remains unknown. A search of the Pear Tree Lane premises found a bullet, a shell casing, traces of human blood, and evidence of “overt cleaning” of the execution area.
Austin, Texas – Austin police have identified a second man involved in Monday night’s double murder of a lesbian athlete and her mother in Southeast Austin. KXAN reports that authorities made the announcement on Wednesday, and are currently trying to decide the role this second suspect played in the brutal shooting of the two women by José Alfonso Aviles, disgruntled father of the lesbian’s teenaged girlfriend. Both Norma Hurtado and Maria Hurtado, 24 and 57 respectively, died in the attack. Aviles was infuriated about the same-sex dating relationship his daughter had with Ms. Hurtado, and had threatened both Ms. Hurtado and her family with harm prior to the double homicide. As police reconstructed the killing, Aviles and the second suspect drove to the Hurtado home on Monday evening, knocked on the door of the residence, and as Ms. Hurtado and her mother answered the door, Aviles allegedly opened fire. Both suspects then fled into the night. At the time of the attack, Ms. Aviles, daughter of her lover’s assailant, was in the back of the Hurtado residence and heard the shots fired. She discovered the bodies on the floor, and called 911. Both daughter and mother were pronounced dead at the scene. José Aviles fled to the San Antonio area where U.S. Marshals arrested him on Tuesday. He has been charged with capital murder, and is being held in the Bexar County Jail without bond. We Are Austin reports that friends gathered at the Hurtado home Tuesday evening to comfort each other and to remember the slain women. Norma Hurtado was a renowned soccer player in the Millennium League, and was considered one of its best players. On Thursday, April 21, a Community Candlelight Vigil in memory of the slain women is planned at the offices of OutYouth, 909 East 49 1/2 Street in Austin, beginning at 8 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend. Speaking on behalf of the faith communities of Austin, Rev. Karen Thompson, senior pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Austin, decried the attack prompted by a father’s anger at the lesbian relationship between Ms.Hurtado and Ms. Aviles. “It is always, always heartbreaking when ignorance and hatred lead to this kind of violence,” she said. “But today, on this Thursday of Holy Week, the heartbreak and sadness are multiplied by a terrible irony. As our GLBTQ brothers and sisters gather together to mourn two more senseless deaths, Christians all over the world will be gathering to observe Maundy Thursday. Maundy Thursday, the day on which our tradition holds that Jesus had a last supper with his disciples and gave them a new mandate, ‘A new commandment I give you, that you love one another.'”
Austin, Texas – A lesbian and her mother were gunned down in Southeast Austin Monday evening by a teenager’s father, furious over his daughter’s queer relationship. Norma Hurtado, 24, and her mother, Maria Hurtado, 57, were shot to death in their home, while Norma’s 18-year-old lover, the gunman’s daughter, was in the back of the house. José Alfonso Aviles, 45, and an unidentified second man, allegedly knocked on the door of the Austin residence in the 7100 block of Dixie Drive, and when the Hurtados answered the door, Aviles opened fire. Witnesses told police they saw two men flee the scene in a Nissan. Both Norma and Maria were killed in the hail of bullets. Aviles was apprehended in the St. Hedwig section of San Antonio on Tuesday where he surrendered to officers of the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force. An investigation of a green Nissan turned up a pistol thought to be the murder weapon. Aviles has been charged with capital murder and is being held in the Bexar County Jail without bond. Details of the murder are slowly coming to light as the investigation proceeds. Norma Hurtado and the Aviles girl (whose name is not being released ostensibly because of her age) had been in a dating relationship for several months, much to the chagrin of Aviles. According to an arrest affidavit made available to KVUE News, witnesses testified to police that Aviles had threatened Norma Hurtado and her family over the lesbian relationship. Lt. Gena Davis of the Austin Police Department told KVUE, “We do know that the father had threatened harm toward Norma previously. This has been a dispute between these two individuals and subsequently we have suffered a horrific act of violence in our community.”
The Dallas Voice broke the story in North Texas. The Austin Police have not classified this case as a hate crime. Reporter John Wright opined that though Austin has a lesbian District Attorney, she is unlikely to pursue a hate crime angle in the double homicide. Although Texas has a hate crime statute on the books that lists “sexual preference” as a protected class, it offers no sentence enhancement in cases of capital murder. Texas is notorious for leaving its gay/lesbian hate crimes law uninvoked in seemingly obvious cases of homophobia such as this one. Texas D.A.’s reason that the hate crimes law raises the bar of proof, burdening a prosecutor who is likely going for the death penalty anyway. An attempt is being made to tamp down the story, reminiscent of other LGBTQ hate crimes investigations where the authorities want to minimize the sexual orientation motive for a murder that otherwise bears all the classic marks of an anti-lesbian honor killing. Your News Now (YNN) reports APD’s Lt. Davis as saying, “This was a very isolated incident. There is no fear to the community.” Austin, long considered “safe” for LGBTQ people, has in recent months experienced a spate of anti-gay and lesbian violence, including attacks on gay softball players and on gay community leaders outside popular gay bars. The nature of murder aimed at lesbians and gay men by straight killers may seem “isolated” as the police wish to portray it, but the brutality, rage, and callousness of the crimes bespeak a message to the whole LGBTQ community of Travis County and Central Texas. The Unfinished Lives Project Team would be very surprised if lesbians and gay men in Austin are buying the line the APD is trying to sell them. Austin is no longer safe and secure for its LGBTQ population.
Tucson, Arizona – The toxic climate of hate speech in the United States has been named as a “suspect” in the attempted assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) on Saturday. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois used former Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s inflammatory rhetoric (“Don’t retreat, reload!”) as an example of the caustic political climate characteristic of political speech in America, and called for all parties to refrain from demonization and hate speech, according to the Huffington Post and AP reports. Giffords was shot through the head, six others were killed, and a total of 16 people wounded in an attack on the Congresswoman’s open-air “Congress On Your Corner” event held in Tucson at a Safeway Supermarket location. A 22-year-old, Jared Loughner, was tackled by two attendees, and subsequently arrested for the attempted assassination of Representative Giffords. While the investigation is proceeding against Loughner, who may have ties to an extremist political group called “American Renaissance,” officials across the nation are decrying the hate speech so prevalent in American discourse on virtually every level of the nation’s life. Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of Pima County, Arizona, where the shooting took place on Saturday, told the Associated Press: “I think that when the rhetoric about hatred, about mistrust of government, about paranoia of how government operates and to try to inflame the public on a daily basis, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, has impact on people especially who are unbalanced personalities to begin with.” Sheriff Dupnik went on to liken Arizona as the “Tombstone of the United States,” in apparent reference to the lawless legacy of violence in the Wild West of the late 19th century. The U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona has issued a complaint against Jared Lee Loughner, charging him with federal crimes, including the murder of individuals performing their duties as government officials, and the attempted assassination of a member of Congress. Lawmakers are vociferously condemning the demonizing rhetoric of recent years in the wake of the shooting, but the roots of American hate speech and the culture of violence so rife in American life are being left untouched. For decades, minority groups like the LGBTQ community in the United States have suffered the effects of intolerance and hate speech, as well as the violence that such irresponsible language spawns. While pundits may debate the linkage between hate speech and hate violence, the dead in every state in the nation give mute testimony to the effects of bias-motivated acts carried out by individuals and groups espousing the sub-humanity of their targets. Hate speech leads to hateful deeds, as Sheriff Dupnik, making reference to the mental state of the assailant in Saturday’s attack, asserted to the Washington Post: “There’s reason to believe that this individual may have a mental issue. And I think people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol,” he said during his televised remarks. “People tend to pooh-pooh this business about all the vitriol we hear inflaming the American public by people who make a living off of doing that. That may be free speech, but it’s not without consequences.” U. S. Senator Diane Feinstein, who discovered the body of gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk after his assassination, spoke to the consequences of hate-filled rhetoric: “I have seen firsthand the effects of assassination, and there is no place for this kind of violence in our political discourse. It must be universally condemned. We do not yet know the gunman’s motivations, but I am convinced that we must reject extremism and violent rhetoric.” Jared Lee Loughner is the prime suspect in the terror-attack on Congresswoman Giffords, Federal Judge Roll, and the other victims of the Tucson rampage. But bias-driven hate speech in American life, that terrorizes minorities, political opponents, and cultural adversaries, belongs in the dock in the wake of this outrage every bit as much as the man who was apparently motivated to kill and maim by the angry words he heard for most of his young life.
Huntsville, TX – On July 20, Derrick L. Jackson, 42, is scheduled to die by lethal injection for the 1988 double homicide of two gay men from Houston. Jackson maintains his innocence, claiming to have been framed in order to solve the cold case. According to the Houston Chronicle, the exceptionally brutal murders of Forrest Henderson and his house-guest, Richard Alan Wrotenbery, both 31, panicked the world of the Houston Grand Opera when the story of their deaths hit media in September 1988. Both men sang tenor for the opera, and had been rehearsing Bizet’s Carmen the night before the atrocity. Wrotenbery, by vocation a first-grade music teacher at Deer Park School, had just divorced his wife, and had accepted a room with Henderson until he could get a place of his own arranged. After the rehearsal on September 10, Wrotenbery went back to the apartment to rest, and Henderson hit the bars in the Montrose section. Apparently, he invited Jackson home with him. Loud music was heard coming from the apartment late into the night, and around 4 a.m., neighbors heard a man scream loudly, “Oh my God! No! No!” It was not until the school district contacted the apartment complex looking for Wrotenbery who had not shown up for work that the bodies of the victims were found. Investigators remember the volume of blood in the apartment as excessive, even for a stabbing/slashing murder. Henderson’s naked body was found stabbed repeatedly in the chest. Wrotenbery, whom authorities presume was asleep at the time of the attack, had his throat slit. Both men had extensive bludgeoning wounds that were most likely delivered with a heavy metal bar from an exercise set. Henderson’s wallet was stolen as well as his car, and Wrotenbery’s wallet was also missing. When the car was spotted the next day by Houston Police, a high-speed chase ensued until the car crashed near an apartment complex, where the driver, presumably Jackson, made his escape on foot. The case went cold for seven years, until forensic science improved enough in 1995 to match a bloody hand print lifted from a door knob to Jackson, already serving 12 years for a string of home burglaries and other crimes. Wrotenbery’s father, a former librarian from Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, is ambivalent about the death penalty, but intends to witness the execution of his son’s killer. He said to the Houston Chronicle, “When you come to the personal aspect of it, pure logic says for someone to do a crime of this nature, unprovoked — Alan was in the wrong place at the wrong time — it’s hard for me to think the death penalty is unjustified.” Bill Hawkins, a Harris County District Attorney who prosecuted Jackson for the murders, told the Dallas Morning News,”The scientific evidence was extremely strong. And subsequent defense testing of DNA had his numbers.” Jackson told the press that while he admitted robberies and auto theft in other cases, he never killed these two gay men. According to the Dallas Voice, Jackson will be the 15th person to be executed by the state of Texas this year.
An EDGE Boston article describes circumstances surrounding the deaths of two elderly gay men who shared a home in southwest Indianapolis. According to the article, “70-year-old Milton Lindgren and 73-year-old Eric Hendricks had been harassed prior to their deaths… with their phone and cable lines having been cut and a note containing an anti-gay epithet having been left on their door.”
The bodies were discovered by friends, Michael Brown and Kevin Tetrick, who had not heard from Lindgren or Hendricks for more than a week.
A WRTV Channel 6 report says police would not reveal how the two elderly men were killed or how long their bodies had been inside the home, only that their deaths came by “violent means.” An article in the IndyStar elaborates, saying the couple’s friends found an open window at the rear of the house and detected a strong smell coming from inside. Climbing through the window, one of the friends found Lindgren’s blood-covered body in one bedroom and Hendricks’ in another.
The WRTV report adds, “Police reports show that the men had their phone and cable lines cut twice in the past few months, and that anti-gay statements were posted on their front door. Investigators said that while they do believe the vandalism was related to Lindgren and Hendricks being gay, that they didn’t know if their killings were.”
Patrick Beard, another friend of the slain couple, said, “I firmly believe it was definitely a hate crime. Milt was 70 and his partner was 73 and to go into someone’s home and do something like that, it’s just too coincidental.” Beard’s son, Lee, added, “I’m not a genius, but if someone’s being harassed like that and fagot gets stamped on their door on a piece of paper, it’s not that hard to connect the dots two months later that these two people are brutally killed in their home.”
Hendricks, who was ill at the time he was attacked, had been confined to a wheelchair.
Additional information about this story, including commentary about Indiana’s hate crime laws, can be found at Advance Indiana.
Update: Police are now seeking Michael Brown, one of the friends who was at Hendricks’s and Lindgren’s murder site when police were originally called to investigate. “Mr. Brown was at the scene at the time officers were called to investigate what happened at the house,” said Indianapolis police Sgt. Paul Thompson. “He was one of the two individuals inside that stated the two individuals inside had not been seen or heard from in a while. Investigators did interview him initially, however, they have reason to interview him again.” Source: A report filed by WRTV Channel 6 in Indianapolis.
The Hate Crimes Bill has provided an excellent summary of a new report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs showing anti-LGBT violence has been on the rise since the murder of Lawrence “Larry” King in Oxnard, California, at the beginning of this year.
“The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) reports a recent rash of at least 13 brutal and violent hate crimes that have occurred throughout the country on the heels of the murder of 15 year-old Lawrence King in Los Angeles and the brutal beating of Duanna Johnson, both in February of 2008,” says the Hate Crimes Bill’s website. “NCAVP reports that these hate crimes may indicate a frightening trend of increases in both the number and severity of anti-LGBT violence.”
The NCAVP findings come after several anti-LGBT hate crimes, including the police beating of a transgender woman in Memphis, Tennessee; the harassment and beating of a gay man on a New York subway; the murder of a transgender woman in Memphis, Tennessee; the alleged police beating of a gay man in Greeley, Colorado; the beating of a priest in Queens, New York, for protecting a group of LGBT youth living at a shelter for homeless youth; the midnight home-invasion and arson, in Central New York, by a self-proclaimed Neo-Nazi, who targeted a sleeping 65-year-old gay man (the victim was able to flee the home, unhurt); the fatal bludgeoning of 18-year-old Angie Zapata, a transgender Latina woman in Greeley, Colorado; the beating of gay man Jimmy Lee Dean, in Dallas, Texas, whose injuries were so severe that he was in intensive care and could not be interviewed or identified until five days after the crime; the severe injury of a man in upstate New York, whose two assailants beat, kicked, and shouted anti-gay slurs until they had broken ten bones in their victim’s face; the attack against an 18-year-old living in St Helens, in the United Kingdom, who died a week later from his injuries; the (at least partially) anti-gay-motivated shooting rampage in a Knoxville, Tennessee, church that claimed two lives and wounded seven others; the mob-beating and stabbing of a man perceived to be gay in Staten Island, New York; the ongoing and escalating harassment (for nearly 8 years) of a gay male couple living in Cleveland, Ohio, by anti-gay neighbors; and the ongoing and escalating harassment (for nearly 20 years) of a gay male couple living in a rural Pennsylvania town, who have suffered incidents of gunfire, vandalism, stalking, acts of intimidation, and the indifference from local police.
In a grim coincidence, more than one anti-LGBT hate crime has occurred in both Memphis, Tennessee, and Greeley, Colorado, since the beginning of 2008.
Unfinished Lives also offers our own analysis of the significance of anti-LGBT hate-crime statistics in the United States. The NCAVP’s findings and the Hate Crimes Bill’s detailed summary confirm what has been a growing concern for LGBT persons living in the United States.