Alabama murder being investigated as possible hate crime

By admin

Originally published on Advocate.com July 30 2004 12:00 AM ET

A Bay Minette, Ala., teenager's homosexuality was described by a defense lawyer Wednesday as a factor in his killing--a gruesome attack in which the body was dumped in the woods and burned beyond recognition. The victim, 18-year-old Scotty Joe Weaver, was killed "because of his sexual orientation," said Rusty Pigott, a lawyer for one of three people charged with capital murder in the death. Pigott said 18-year-old Robert Porter, a defendant who is not his client, "spoke openly of wanting to kill the guy because he was gay."

Porter, who had been living in Weaver's trailer for several days, is being held without bond for Weaver's death, which occurred July 18. Also held are Christopher Ryan Gaines, 20, and Gaines's girlfriend, Nichole Kelsay, 18, who also had been staying in Weaver's trailer. Pigott, who is representing Gaines, said he has spoken to Porter as part of his investigation.

Porter's lawyer, William Pfeifer, filed a motion Wednesday for a gag order to prohibit prosecutors and police from discussing the case. "These kids deserve a fair trial, not one that's been tainted by inaccurate and misleading information," Pfeifer said. He described Pigott's version of the facts as "inaccurate and misleading."

Authorities said the three were unemployed and that Weaver, who had a night job at a diner, had tried to make them leave because they were stealing from him and not paying rent. Robbed of less than $100, Weaver was strangled, beaten, and stabbed before his body was removed from his mobile home, dumped in woods about eight miles away, and set afire.

A Baldwin County sheriff's spokesman said Wednesday that statements from the three suspects gave no indication of a hate crime and that robbery was believed to be the primary motive. But authorities said they were investigating whether Weaver's homosexuality played a role in the attack. Alabama's hate-crime statute does not cover sexual orientation, but it still may determine whether prosecutors seek the death penalty in this case because of aggravating circumstances, said district attorney David Whetstone.

A statement from Ron Schlitter, executive director of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, described Weaver's murder as a hate crime. "Such vicious murders are meant to send a strong message to anyone who dares live their life as they see fit...if they have the courage to cross certain
boundaries of personal expression," Schlitter said.

The burned, decomposed body was found July 22 by a man driving through the area in an all-terrain vehicle. The slaying has unnerved Weaver's neighbors, who live in 30 trailers lined up in close rows. "It's quiet out here," said 24-year-old Deandre Ward, who lives across the driveway from Weaver's trailer, where police removed the crime scene tape Wednesday. Ward said the suspects knew Weaver was gay.

Another neighbor, Dennis Wells, 34, said he and his wife were close friends with the victim. "He wasn't cartwheel gay, just a good kid," Wells said. He said he had seen Weaver "cross-dressing" only twice and that Weaver had looked at dresses with Wells's wife. Weaver's coworkers at the Waffle House declined to comment regarding the case. "We all miss him, and we all love him," one of them said.