Murder in Indiana: Media Lethargy

By H. Lukas Green and Jody May-Chang©
June 29, 2007

Two years ago, Crothersville, Indiana, was the scene of a national media frenzy. In January 2005, every major television network and news service wanted to know what happened to 10-year-old Katie Collman who was the subject of a massive search involving hundreds of local volunteers.

Katie’s body was eventually found in Cypress Lake, just north of Seymour, Indiana. Anthony Stockelman of Seymour pleaded guilty to murder and child molestation for the girl’s killing. In exchange, prosecutors dropped their request for the death penalty.

The little girl disappeared Jan. 25, 2005, as she was running an errand for her mother. Her body was discovered five days later in a nearby creek. Her hands were tied behind her back and there was evidence she had been sexually molested, according to the autopsy.

Three men arrested in the murder of Aaron 'Shorty' HallNow the same town is dealing with the horrible murder of Aaron “Shorty” Hall, but it is not generating the same level of coverage that the Collman killing did in 2005.

Unlike an innocent little girl, Hall was by no means a candidate for sainthood. Hall abused drugs and alcohol, and he associated with some characters who would hardly be considered model citizens.

Barring his personal life, it is the absolute brutality that the man suffered, which eventually resulted in him being murdered, that merits nothing less than full and complete news coverage. But for the most part, the Indiana media decided not to defend the public’s right to know and simply depended on quick sound bites and press releases.

An editorial published by Steven Higgs of the Bloomington asks why The Indianapolis Star, Indiana’s largest news paper, has yet to cover the brutal murder of Aaron “Shorty” Hall.

“The case should have been big news,” Higgs contends. “Yet The Star left the Hall murder to the Jackson County media, the never-to-be-trusted Indianapolis and Louisville television stations and bloggers”

This murder story is like the perfect storm of story assignments. The Indiana media has an opportunity to explore hate crimes and how easily it is for some to hide behind “gay panic” as a plausible defense. So far, the media has decided to ignore that opportunity.

The Indiana media could explain the fact that their state is one of at least five in the country that does not have hate crime legislation on the books. What would such legislation bring into a real hate crime murder? Does it or would it relate to the murder of Hall?

What is it like for an openly gay or even closeted homosexual to live in rural Indiana? This is a chance to give some perspective to that issue. If you are gay and living in that area of the country do you live in fear of being killed or attacked because the law and media would look the other way simply because of your sexual orientation?

Poverty and education are also issues in this story. The people of southern Indiana are not bad people, they just deserve better from the media that is suppose to inform them and the government that is suppose to protect them. lacks the financial resources and access to sources that major media outlets in Indiana have, yet we were determined to find out what was involved in this killing because we felt it had a direct impact on us and our LGBT brothers and sisters.

We asked questions, repeatedly. We did not take “no comment” as an answer. And we listened carefully to what was being said because the threat of using “gay panic” as a reason to kill is totally unacceptable anywhere in America.

The only reporting found on the Hall murder was done by a couple of local news stations with not much more than a passing mention. The local newspapers in Crothersville, neighboring Seymour and the Jackson County weekly had the only serious reporting to found. And the only meaningful coverage outside the immediate area was done by the Bloomington Alternative weekly.

The murder of Aaron “Shorty” Hall is not just one story, but many stories that seem to intersect on a country road in rural America.

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