A weepy mist encased me as I stood beside his grave, the Guns and Roses song “Patience” reverberated through my mind; it had played inside the funeral parlor. Looking around, there were more jeans and t-shirts than suits and ties. Some attendees carried the odor of sour mash on them—a whiskey bottle was passed around; I didn’t decline. The whole scene seemed so surreal. I expected to see Sam Elliot pull up on a Harley, like some Hollywood movie.
It just couldn’t be true. My friend couldn’t be dead.
Was he even in that box I stood over crying? His body had been left to decompose; a closed casket was required. Months passed before I could eventually bring myself to terms with the fact that he was definitely dead. We were all robbed—our loved one stolen from us, murdered on an April evening. No justice would follow. Just more tears and regret—the kind of sorrow that burrows deep inside your gut and never leaves. Eight years later that sorrow still lingers.
During a night of binge drinking and possible drug use, three young men–Coleman King, Garrett Gray, and Jamie Hendrix—beat Shorty ruthlessly until he was unconscious, dragged him feet first down a flight of stairs, placed him in the back of a pickup truck, continued to beat him, and threw him in a ditch to die. After some time, the boys decided to go back to where they’d placed him to steal his camouflaged jacket. They found that he had lived long enough to crawl into a field, where he did eventually die. Worried he’d be found in the field, the boys wrapped Shorty’s lifeless body in a tarp and hid him in a garage behind the home of Garrett Gray, where his body wouldn’t be discovered for 10 days.
Only worsening the fact they murdered him, his killers also sent pictures of Shorty via text message as they continually beat him, showing the progression of his blackened eyes and broken nose. It is also alleged that once they’d placed his body in the garage, they brought in friends to show off their work.
Shorty became their trophy, although this was never proven in court.
Why would young men, aged 18, 19, and 21, kill a then 35 year old man? The killers alleged that Shorty was “gay,” and had made “gay passes” at Coleman King. King’s only defense in the brutal murder of my friend was “gay panic”. This should have been a hate crime. However, since Indiana has decided to remain an outlier without hate crime laws, the defense was perfectly acceptable. The charges for Jamie Hendrix were completely dropped. Coleman King and Garrett Gray will only serve 15 years in prison for the lesser crime of voluntary manslaughter.
Even though Shorty’s death was brutal—his body defiled even after death—the charge of “murder” was dropped.
His 10 year old daughter, many family members and friends were left without the person we loved—a person who couldn’t have possibly defended himself in this situation.
Shorty was aptly nicknamed when we were teenagers. Even at his autopsy, he was 5’3” and 124 lbs. The young men who took his life were four times his size, collectively. If they had been professional fighters, they would have been heavy weights fighting a feather weight. They were out of their league, and my friend never stood a chance against the three of them—that’s if there were only three. It is alleged that there may have been others present.
Not only did the State of Indiana hinder justice by not enacting a law against hate crimes, the County of Jackson dropped the ball and hid it. One of the defendants’, Garrett Gray, fathers was on the county payroll as none other than the coroner. While the county has alleged it was only a technicality that Gray was on the payroll—he was not actively serving—it does seem as though it should have presented a conflict of interest in the case; it wasn’t. Gray and his co-defendant received more justice swayed in their favor than did my friend who died beaten, broken, suffering, and alone in a field on a cold April night.
His body was left to rot. We couldn’t give him a proper goodbye.
Many have said Shorty probably had it coming, not because of the allegation that he was gay, but because he was no angel having served more time in jail than I can recount, including time in prison—a lot of time. He was an addict, and struggled greatly with his addiction. I couldn’t make Shorty an upstanding citizen in the community if I tried. It’s sad, but true. To me, this only raises another question: Was justice not served because he was an undesirable in the community? Was the gay label just the putrid icing on a cake so dense with corruption and injustice it makes me wretch?
I never knew my friend to be gay. Even if he had been, being gay is not grounds for the death penalty served up via three punks who decided Shorty should die. In my opinion, “gay panic” was a defense tactic used to keep the defendants, one of whom was the child of a county employee, from serving life in prison. It is a defense that would never have been used if the State of Indiana had simply passed a hate crime bill. Yet even today, there still are no hate crime laws in Indiana .
What happened to my friend could happen again.
Although it had been years since I had actually seen Shorty, his death ripped out my heart when I heard the news. I couldn’t imagine the brutality he suffered. Eight years later, I am still plagued with nightmares of the guy who was never anything but good to me calling my name from a field, begging me to save him.
I couldn’t save him.
I wasn’t there.
I am here today, however, with the ability to raise awareness to help protect others.
The time for patience has passed. No one should be able to use “gay panic” as a defense. No state should turn a blind eye to brutal hate crimes, shrugging them off as legitimate reactions to another human being. Justice for the death of my friend will never be served. His murderers will walk free by 2022, but if nothing else, maybe there can be justice for others. Maybe Shorty’s death isn’t for nothing, after all. Instead of some monsters’ trophy, Shorty can be a symbol for justice in cases involving hate crime.
He may not have been angelic in life, but maybe in death he can be our hero.
Tammie Niewedde shares her life with 24, 21, and 16 year old sons. She also has a 2 year old grandson whose energy level reminds her exactly how old she is (40, and she owns that proudly!). In her home, you will find a 120 pound fur factory named Dexter and a few cats whom have decided that she is merely their staff. The root of her love for books, writing, and animals comes from being a child whose only siblings were books and her animals. She is a full-time student, mother, coordinator of all that is chaos, and a hopeless list maker. Most of her writing is creative non-fiction that describes her real life adventures. Her acerbic, biting sense of humor may capture your heart, or it may induce rage. Nonetheless what she writes is true to life. You can often find her hanging out with the kiddos, studying, reading, writing, and making lists…of everything! You can find her on Facebook!