Murder in Indiana: “Gay Panic” – A License to Kill

H. Lukas Green & Jody May-Chang ©
June 29, 2007 PrideDEPOT.com EXCLUSIVE

Murder victim Aaron A family member of a man brutally beaten and murdered in a small rural Indiana town spoke out in an exclusive interview with PrideDEPOT.com about Aaron “Shorty” Hall (left) and those accused of killing him.

Sabrena Baker, the former girlfriend and mother of Hall’s child, says the victim was not gay as the defendants alleged and she has doubts that justice will be served in a heinous crime that has garnered very little media attention in Indiana.

Baker, who lives near North Vernon, told PrideDEPOT.com that she lived with Hall for nine years and raised his 10-year-old daughter, Day-Z Mae. The couple was separated for about six years, but still maintained a relationship as parents of their daughter.

“He was far from being gay. It just looks like they are trying to make him look like he was gay,” Baker said in reaction to the “gay panic” defense presented by the accused.

She said that ever since the murder, Day-Z has gone to therapy once a week in North Vernon, Indiana.

“She cries every day,” Baker said. “And she is constantly asking me why they would do anything like that, and I don’t know how to answer her question why somebody would kill someone and how they done him.”

Hall was murdered on April 12, but his corpse was found by local police 10 days later wrapped in a tarp and hidden inside a garage belonging to Terry Gray, the local Jackson County Deputy Coroner, who is the father of Garrett Gray, 19, one of the murder defendants.

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“Yesterday, I heard from some people down there that after they stuck him in the garage they were inviting people in and showing him off like some kind of trophy or something,” Baker said. “I don’t understand why they would do him like that.”

Andy Rumph, Jackson County Coroner Medical Examiner, said the autopsy performed on Hall’s body was done at the Kentucky Medical Examiner’s Office in Louisville, KY.

PrideDEPOT.com obtained a copy of the autopsy report which states, “The body is wrapped in a blue tarp. Removal of the tarp reveals the body to be wrapped in a navy blue, queen sized, fitted sheet. The body is received nude. A yellow metal necklace encircles the neck.”

The report also indicates Hall’s body was covered with bruises and cuts in various locations indicating blunt trauma. There was no interpretation offered on why Hall’s body arrived nude.

“We take all of our forensic cases to the Louisville Medical Examiner for obvious reasons,” Rumph told PrideDEPOT.com. “Also, Terry Gray has not been a deputy with my office since mid-2006.”

Baker doubts Rumph’s comment saying she had heard that “Terry Gray was still on the job as deputy coroner and only quit after Shorty’s body was discovered inside his garage.” She also claims that Terry Gray moved from the house and was living with his girlfriend, leaving his 18-year-old and an older son to live in the house unsupervised. Gray’s wife is deceased.

During a telephone interview with PrideDEPOT.com, Amy Travis, Jackson County Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, explained that although King was technically listed as working for the corner’s office he was actually inactive for quite some time.

“I don’t believe that he was actively working there,”? Travis said. “He may have held the title of deputy which is to say that nobody revoked his being a deputy, but I don’t believe that he was actively working for the coroner or sheriff’s office during that time period.”?

At the time of his death, Hall was living in Crothersville with his mother, Martha Gumm. Her house is a short distance from Gray’s residence where the beatings took place and where Hall was eventually hauled off in a pickup truck only to be dumped in a ditch a few miles away.

Accused of killing Aaron Hall
The Accused

“They went by and picked him up,” Baker said. “But they said they had a problem with him down there, they should have just let him leave or took him back home because it was less than a mile from her home.”

Gray, Coleman King, 18, and Robert Hendricks, 21, had just stopped off at the Stop-In liquor store when they picked up Hall. The four of men ended up at a party in Gray’s house where the beatings took place and continued for hours.

At one point as the beatings were going on, Hendricks sent a photo of Hall’s badly beaten face with both King and Colman in the photo to his friend John Hodge. Hodge, who was at work during the assault, told police that after receiving the photo and text message he talked with Hendricks on his cell phone and could hear Hall screaming in the background.

The autopsy report described Hall as 5-foot, 3 inches and 124 pounds. The accused told police in chilling detail how, after repeatedly beating him; they dragged Hall by his feet down a staircase while “his head bounced down all of the steps.”

Once outside the house, he was put in Gray’s Ford Ranger pickup. Hendricks drove the truck while King and Gray continued beating Hall until they reached a ditch and dumped him.

The next day, Hendricks allegedly decided to go back to the ditch because he wanted to take Hall’s camouflaged jacket. He arrived at the ditch with John Hodge, only to discover that Hall was not in the same location. Hodge told police that he saw what he believed was a dead deer in a nearby field, but as they got closer they discovered that it was Hall’s naked lifeless body.

Some have speculated that Hall may still have been alive when they dumped him off.

Crothersville, Indiana Map
Crothersville, Indiana

Unanswered question: Why Hall was naked?

“I’ve actually heard that they was going to burn him,” Baker said. “They was just going to burn his whole body that way nobody would find him. It just don’t sound right to me. If they’re saying he was gay, and they’re saying they aren’t gay, why would they want to take his clothes off?”

Each of the accused told police that Hall triggered the violence by making a homosexual advance.

When questioned if she knew why Hall’s body was found naked, Travis said that is “one that I cannot answer.”?

“It makes me think what they really done to him. We only got the death certificate back a couple days ago,” Baker said.

Baker read the information on the Hall’s death certificate to PrideDEPOT.com as: “Cause of death: Blunt force injury, beating, hypothermia, coronary artery disease, and acute ethanol intoxication.”

“He was raised in that town and everybody there knew him,” she said.

Hall was buried in Uniontown Cemetery the day before his 36th birthday. Baker said her daughter goes to her father’s grave often to leave items and to cry.

“Day-Z made him a birthday cake and took it to his grave. She usually takes him stuff down there at least once a week,” she said. Baker said Day-Z turned 10 the week her father was buried.

Baker said she plans to attend every hearing and the trial out of respect to Hall and for her daughter. “My whole life is revolved around this right now,” she said.

She said she was at a hearing where King petitioned the court to be released on bond. It was during that hearing that Baker said she heard the Prosecutor present the coroner’s report to the Judge which she said “was about 10 pages” and listed King’s prior violent offenses.

“The prosecutor brought in the names of two or three names of other boys he beat up real bad and put in the hospital. And one of them she said he beat him up real bad and was gonna put a belt around his neck and hang him out in the front yard like a nigger in front of the tree,” said Baker

“That was this year. That was March 17 and December last year he beat up somebody real bad and put him in the hospital for about a month,” said Baker.

Although King does not have prior convictions, court records indicate that the evidence presented during the bond hearing pointing out incidents of past violent behavior.

Baker said she is doubtful that Jackson County law enforcement is capable of dealing with this murder case. She says news reports leave people to believe that only the accused were in the house at the time of Hall’s beating, but she feels certain that others were witnesses to the crime.

When contacted by PrideDEPOT.com about the investigation, Detective Robert Henley said all media questions must be submitted in advance and in writing.

“It’s still an ongoing investigation,” Henley said. “And although items submitted to court may be a matter of public record, the investigation in its entirety would probably not be a matter of public record as of yet.”

Henley who is with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department said any questions from PrideDEPOT.com must be reviewed by legal council in Indiana before he responds back in writing.

“Before granting an interview, what I would need is to know what kind of things you would want to interview me about, and I need that in writing,”? Henley said. “And I would respond in writing, but I would have to consult the Indiana Sheriff’s Association Attorney, Howard Williams before responding to questions.”

Jackson County Sheriff's Detective Robert Henely and Lt. Darin Downs escort Coleman King from court. Photo Seymour Tribune, Aubrey Woods

Unanswered question: Where others at the party besides the accused?

“It’s all over town that there was more than just them few guys there . . . we heard that Garrett Gray’s and that Henderson boy’s, and Colman King’s all their girlfriends was there,” Baker said.

She says she believes that Gray’s girl friend was there because of a post left on PrideDEPOT.com on May 26, 2007, by someone identified as Desiree Boknecht.

“Well that last sentence that ‘know body knows what was happening unless they was there,’ so that makes me think she was there,” Baker said.

Baker does not own a home computer. She says she uses a computer at the local public library. It was on a library computer that she tracked down the comments left on the blog at PrideDEPOT.com.

Baker also wants Hendricks to face additional charges.

“They should have him on other charges like contributing to (the delinquency of) minors, drinking and driving. He’s already admitted to driving after drinking. I think they should have every charge possible on him. I really don’t think they’re going to be capable of investigating this right,” she said.

Crothersville was the scene of media frenzy in January 2005.

Major television networks and news services camped out in Crothersville during the search for 10-year-old Katie Collman who was eventually found dead. The little girl was the subject of a massive search involving hundreds of local volunteers.

Anthony Stockelman, is serving a life sentence at the Wabash Correctional Facility for killing the girl. He plead guilty to abducting, molesting and killing the fourth-grader who was missing for five days before her body was found Jan. 30, 2005, in a creek about 15 miles from her home.

“Shorty” Hall was no candidate for sainthood – dead or alive.

In the case of Aaron “Shorty” Hall, there is no massive media coverage. But unlike an innocent little girl, Hall was far from being considered a model citizen. He had drug and alcohol problems, and he associated with some unwholesome characters.

But the brutal nature of his murder and the conflicting issues surrounding each aspect of his death merits a full and open investigative report from the Indiana news media. To date, the press in Indiana has not looked into the details of Hall’s murder or the circumstances surrounding the “gay panic”? defense put forth by the accused.

“When I first met him he did have a drug problem,” Baker said. “But then he switched back to alcohol. Alcohol was a bad thing for him and that’s why we split up.”

Baker thinks the lack of media coverage is unjustified.

“It’s just all messed up. I just wished there’d be more media on it,” Baker said. “They don’t write much in the papers around here except if they go to court or if something new happens.”

Background:

Who:
* Aaron “Shorty” Hall, 35 – murder victim
* Garrett Gray, 19; Coleman King, 18; and Robert Hendricks, 21 (defendants)
* John Hodge, age unknown (uncharged co-conspirator)

What:
* Brutal murder of Aaron “Shorty” Hall

When:
* April 12, 2007

Where:
* Crothersville, Indiana. Population is about 1,570. Founded in 1835 and named after Dr. Crothers, a railroad superintendent. The racial makeup reported as 98.41% White.

Why:
* Defendants citing “gay panic” as a defense

How:
* Brutal beatings and murder. Victim’s body was dumped in a rural ditch. The corpse was retrieved, wrapped inside a tarp and placed in a garage owned by the father of one of the defendants. That defendant was the son of the Jackson County Deputy Coroner.

Key Law Enforcement/Investigative players:
* Lead murder investigator: Detective Rob Henley, Jackson County Sheriff’s Office
* Lead prosecuting attorney: Amy Travis, Jackson County Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney
* Kentucky Medical Examiner’s Office in Louisville, KY. Hall’s body was autopsied in Kentucky