Hate crimes in Indiana


Recent brutality renews legislative controversyOn the night of March 26, 2007, Dexter Lewis, a black male, was walking along Illinois Street in downtown Indianapolis, when he passed a group of three white males on the patio of Ram Restaurant at the Circle Centre Mall.  

“Nice tattoo,” Lewis reportedly said to Eric Fairburn, as he passed.  

“Nigger, don’t you dare stop,” Fairburn reportedly replied.

A few minutes later, as Lewis stood in front of the Steak ’n’ Shake on the corner of Illinois and Washington streets, Fairburn and his two companions approached and began beating him. Lewis eventually fell into the street, and the attack continued in the crosswalk. A witness yelled at them to “knock it off.” One of the attackers waved him off saying, “Back up, or you’ll get a piece of this too!”

The attack continued, according to witnesses, as the trio took turns holding Lewis down and punching his head repeatedly, simultaneously kicking him in the face and abdomen. A witness who saw the attack from inside the restaurant ran outside and yelled for the men to stop. As a crowd began to gather, the three men took off, but not before reportedly kicking their victim in the head one last time.

When they passed another witness, a woman who was already on her phone, one of the attackers yelled, “If you call 911, I’ll kill you.” Yet another witness followed the trio into the garage and watched them get into an SUV. He wrote down the license number and called the police. The vehicle was stopped by officers a short time later.

After Dexter Lewis regained consciousness, he was able to corroborate the identity of his attackers with more than one dozen witnesses. The three have been identified as Eric Fairburn, Josh Kern and Timothy Dumas. All three are members of the Vinlander’s Social Club, part of the Blood and Honour Council, a national syndicate of white supremacy groups, headquartered in Indianapolis.

On arrest documents, Dumas lists his official residence as 2507 English Ave., the Indianapolis “clubhouse” of the Vinlander’s Social Club. Fairburn is one of the founders of the VSC, which originated as the Hoosier State Skinheads.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, “The Vinlander’s Social Club is a hard-core racist skinhead group whose members, some of whom also belong to other racist skinhead groups, are active primarily in the Midwest and Arizona, although there are members in other states as well.”

The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office in Indianapolis originally filed misdemeanor battery charges against Dumas, Fairburn and Kern for the attack on Lewis. Prosecutors have since re-filed felony assault charges.

Kern is now out on bond awaiting trial on July 11. Dumas is now out on bond awaiting trial on July 16. Only Fairburn remains incarcerated. He will stand trial alongside Kern on July 11.  

Hate Crimes Legislation

The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines a hate crime as a criminal offense committed against a person, group or property motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a particular race, religion, ethnicity, nationality or sexual orientation.

The majority of hate crimes in America are committed on the basis of race, primarily against African-Americans, with an average of nearly 4,500 attacks per year. Crimes based on religious hatred, primarily committed against Jewish and Muslim institutions and individuals, occur on the average of more than 1,000 per year, and crimes committed against homosexuals, overwhelmingly against gay men, on the average of 1,200 per year.

Forty-six states and the District of Columbia currently have what is known as Hate Crimes Legislation. While the laws vary in language and scope, most HCL defines hate-motivated acts based on race, religion and ethnicity bias as criminal. The majority of states also include hate-motivated acts based on sexual orientation (32) and gender (28).

“Hate crimes do more than threaten the safety and welfare of all citizens,” concluded the New York state Legislature, upon the passage of the state’s Hate Crime Legislation in 2000. “They inflict on victims incalculable physical and emotional damage and tear at the very fabric of free society.”

As recently as Feb. 22, 2007, Hate Crimes Legislation has been defeated in the Indiana General Assembly.

HB 1459 would have amended Indiana law to allow judges to impose stiffer sentences to those found guilty of committing crimes “knowingly or intentionally … because of the victim’s color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or sex,” just as it currently does to allow stiffer sentences to those who commit crimes against police officers, pregnant women, children and other designated victims.

The measure died on the House floor due to lack of support and overwhelming opposition.

While Indiana is one of only four states in America to not have Hate Crimes Legislation, in accordance with the federal Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990 law enforcement agencies are required to report incidents to the FBI in which a committed crime was motivated by bias against race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation.  

Since 1991, criminal incidents in Indiana that would be classified as hate crimes elsewhere, and, as a result, most likely result in harsher criminal penalties than those imposed in Indiana, include arson and bombings at synagogues, churches and private homes; cross burnings in front of homeless shelters, community centers and private homes; acts of vandalism other than cross burning, including smoke-bombing, chemicals dumped into swimming pools, graffiti on cars and homes and destruction of personal and business property; shootings, physical assaults, verbal threats, harassment, intimidation, vehicle assaults and murder.

In a 1999 study on the prevalence of hate crimes in Indiana, the Indiana Civil Rights Commission documented 130 cases of hate crimes and bias incidents in Indiana between August 1996 and October 1999 involving over 600 victims and 163 separate offenses.

The report found that 50 percent of these hate crimes were motivated by racial bias; 22 percent were motivated by bias against homosexuality; 15 percent were motivated by bias against a particular religion; and 13 percent were motivated by bias against a particular ethnicity.

The offenses during this period included 58 cases of intimidation, 46 cases of vandalism/property damage, 20 cases of assault, 18 cases of arson, 10 cases of robbery, eight cases of aggravated assault and two cases of murder.

The murder of Aaron Hall

On a per capita basis, according to the Indiana Civil Rights Commission, “Gay men are 400 times more likely to become a victim of a hate crime than individuals associated with any other group.”

“The nature of many hate crimes against the homosexual community is particularly gruesome,” concluded a 1992 Indiana Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. “Intense rage is present in nearly all homicide cases with homosexual victims. The striking feature of most murders in this sample is their gruesome, often vicious, nature.

“Seldom is a homosexual victim simply shot. He is more apt to be stabbed a dozen times, mutilated and strangled.”

In the early morning hours of April 13, 2007, in the small Indiana town of Crothersville, halfway between Indianapolis and Louisville, Garrett Gray and Coleman King murdered Aaron Hall, while their friend Jamie Hendricks watched and then helped them dispose of the body.  

According to probable cause affidavits filed in Jackson Circuit Court on April 24, 2007, and published in the Crothersville Times on May 2, Gray and King have admitted to beating Aaron Hall to death after he “grabbed King in the groin asking questions whether King had homosexual tendencies.”

Hendricks told authorities that after Hall made the remarks, Gray and King “went crazy,” and the pair took turns beating Hall for several hours. Gray went first, striking him in the head and face until his eyes were swollen and he was spitting blood. Then Hall was moved to a couch where King straddled and struck him repeatedly in the head and face with his fists and his boots.

The pair then moved Hall onto the deck area of the home where they assaulted Hall again, according to court documents. Gray said they then dragged Hall down the wooden steps and put him in the bed of Gray’s Ford Ranger pickup.

All three of the accused told authorities that Hall’s body was driven to a remote area and dumped into a ditch alongside County Road 800 S.  

Several days later, Hendricks reportedly returned to where they had dumped Hall’s body, because he wanted to get the new coat Hall had been wearing. He took a friend, John Hodge, with him.  

Hodge described “seeing something in the field that he thought at first was a dead deer … the body was completely naked and was severely beaten. He said he recognized the subject to be Aaron Hall and that Hall was dead.”

Nine days later, Hodge told police where to find Hall’s body, and Gray, King and Hendricks were arrested.

Garrett Gray and Coleman King are currently being held in Jackson County Jail without bond on charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter. They have a pre-trial court date of July 19, and a trial date of Oct. 23, 2007. Jamie Hendricks was charged with assisting in a criminal act. His bond is set at $25,000.

The accused reportedly plan to use a “gay-panic defense” similar to that used by the men convicted of killing Matthew Shepard in 1998.

‘The good guys won’

For nearly 20 years, Indiana lawmakers have declined to pass Hate Crimes Legislation in Indiana due to pressure by the powerful Evangelical lobbyists and the fundamentalists they represent who oppose it.

“It is wrong for the government to mandate special rights for the homosexual lifestyle — a lifestyle that many consider immoral,” contends Evangelical lobbyist Eric Miller, founder of Advance America, whose opposition to Hate Crimes Legislation is that it “represents an attempt to give special protection to homosexuals and cross-dressers.”

“Victory in Indiana!” proclaimed a February 2007 e-mail bulletin from Monica Boyer of The Indiana Voice for the Family, “Hate Crimes Legislation [is] Dead!” after HB 1459 died in the Indiana General Assembly.

“This was a clear case of people making their voices heard, and some legislators standing up for what was right,” said Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana.

Like Boyer and Miller, Clark contends that by defeating Hate Crimes Legislation in Indiana, “The good guys won on this issue, and a bad bill was averted.”

Indiana legislators at the federal level followed the recent example of the Indiana General Assembly on May 3, 2007, when three of 10 Indiana members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted against HB 1592, a measure to give federal funds to local jurisdictions investigating and prosecuting hate crimes.  

Only Julia Carson, Baron Hill and Peter Visclosky, all Democrats, voted for the funding. The remaining seven, including Republicans Dan Burton and Mike Pence, as well as Democrats Joe Donnelly and Brad Ellsworth, voted against the bill. HB 1592 ultimately passed the House by a vote of 237-180.

While Evangelical groups and conservative lawmakers from Indiana continue to defend their opposition to Hate Crimes Legislation, local and national human rights groups and bloggers are beginning to take notice.  

And while much of this focus questions why Indiana continues to not enact Hate Crimes Legislation, others are also beginning to question why so few Indiana media outlets are reporting  the beating of Dexter Lewis or the murder of Aaron Hall.  

On June 6, Bloomington Alternative Editor Steven Higgs published an editorial asking why The Indianapolis Star has yet to cover Hall’s murder.

“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 …"