The fatal stabbing of a gay man in a downtown Pittsburgh park frequented by gay male prostitutes is being investigated as a possible hate crime, police said. Michael Hixson, 38, had visited at least two gay bars shortly before three unknown men were seen attacking him in Mellon Square about 2 a.m. on Friday, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. Police are attempting to determine whether Hixson, who was once arrested for public sex, was targeted because of his sexual orientation or if he was the victim of a robbery or random attack. "We're exploring every possible motive," Cmdr. Maurita Bryant told the Tribune-Review. "We have no idea of a motive." The owner of one bar Hixson had visited said his customers are often hassled by aggressive transsexual prostitutes and panhandlers who will "beat you up for a quarter." But his patrons are not usually targeted because they are gay, he said. "People get mugged down here, people get beat up," said Tony Rubino, owner of the Liberty Avenue Saloon. "But I don't think it has to do with their lifestyles."
Two men skateboarding found Hixson slumped on the sidewalk in front of the Sak's Fifth Avenue department store in the downtown area. Hixson was taken to Mercy Hospital, where he died at 7:20 a.m. from stab wounds to his back. Witnesses told police they saw Hixson sitting alone on the bench sometime before the attack, Bryant said. Another witness reported seeing Hixson get "jumped" by three unknown men in their early 20s wearing black clothing, Bryant said. She declined to reveal what else the witnesses had said or whether police found any other evidence at the scene.
In August 1998, Pittsburgh police arrested Hixson on a charges of open lewdness and drug possession after an officer saw him performing a sex act on a man in Schenley Park. The lewdness charge was dropped, but he was placed on probation for possessing cocaine, court records show.