Crime Is Issue, Not Homosexuality of Suspects, Activists Say

July 7, 2008 - 7:02 PM

( - Commenting on the rape and murder of a 13-year-old Arkansas boy allegedly at the hands of a homosexual couple, gay groups told that in the interests of justice, investigators and the media should focus on the crime and not on the sexual orientation of the alleged perpetrators.

"It's a tragedy when anyone dies in this way, and anyone who kills them should suffer the severest consequences of the law, no matter what 'side' they are," Mel White, a gay minister and author, told

White said the media attention surrounding the killing of 13-year-old Jesse Dirkhising in Arkansas and that of homosexual student Matthew Shepard, 22, in Wyoming last year "mustn't be our indicator of how deeply people mourn the losses."

"That's a kind of game we don't want to play. 'Who is suffering more' is not a game anyone can win. The fact is a child died when Matthew Shepard died on that fence, and now a child is dead in Arkansas. We grieve them all equally and we apply the law to all of these killers whoever they are, and whatever their sexual orientation, without respect to person," White said.

White is chairman of Soulforce, an ecumenical organization that teaches "the principles of non-violence on behalf of sexual minorities."

Stephen Spurgeon, the director of communications for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), called the murder of Jesse Dirkhising "a crime of horrific brutality," in a statement to

"The intolerable sexual abuse and murder of a boy is the crime and must be the focus of the investigation. The sexual orientation of the alleged killers is not the crime. We share everyone's concern for justice and our sympathies go out to all those who knew and loved Jesse Dirkhising," Spurgeon said.

The trial of Aaron McKinney, 22, the second man charged in the 1998 slaying of Shepard, is currently underway in Laramie, Wyoming. Police allege McKinney and his friend Russell Henderson lured Shepard out of a Laramie bar, pistol whipped him because he was homosexual, and drove him to a remote country road where they left him tied to a fence. Shepard died in a hospital five days later.

The Shepard slaying received broad coverage in the media, and reinvigorated the national debate on the need for special legislation for hate crimes, which are defined as anything from murder to assault against a citizen because of his or her race, religion, gender, national origin or sexual orientation.

By contrast, the Dirkhising murder received scant national coverage. The boy was found close to death at the apartment of two men, who police also described as homosexual lovers.

Joshua Macave Brown, 22, and Davis Don Carpenter, 38, each are charged with one count of capital murder and six counts of rape stemming from the Sept. 26 death of Dirkhising. The accused, who pleaded not guilty, currently are being held without bond.

According to a police affidavit provided to, Brown testified that on the morning of September 26, he sneaked up on the boy, tied his hands behind his back, placed his pair of undershorts in the teen's mouth and secured the briefs with a bandana and duct tape. He said he blindfolded the youth, bound him to a bed and repeatedly sodomized him while Carpenter watched.

Investigators said they found notes from Carpenter to Brown, instructing him how to bind and sedate a child. A preliminary autopsy showed that the boy died from "positional asphyxiation." Police say the boy was sodomized with several objects.

Christopher D. Plumlee, deputy prosecuting attorney for Benton County, Ark., who investigated Jesse's death, told reporters he was a "little surprised" at the limited coverage this "horrible crime against a child" received.

Calls for equal treatment under the law for all perpetrators by human rights activists echo those of opponents of hate crimes legislation currently being championed by congressional Democrats.

"There is absolutely no question that whenever a person kills, assaults, or rapes another person, they should be swiftly caught, prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law, including the death penalty," said Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), in a statement on hate crimes to

Hate crimes legislation "has nothing to do with deterring crime, and everything to do with grabbing more power for an already bloated federal government," said Barr, a former federal prosecutor from Atlanta who serves on the House Judiciary Committee.