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March 3rd, 2009
06:24 PM ET

A question of motive

Editor’s Note: You can read more Jami Floyd blogs on “In Session.”

Jami Floyd
AC360° Contributor
In Session Anchor

The verdict is in against Joseph Bearden. He was convicted of second-degree murder in the stabbing death of Ryan Skipper. Lots of folks — good people with good intentions — want us to understand Ryan’s murder as a hate crime. But our job as lawyers is to look at all the facts, not just the ones that suit our personal political persuasions.

Yes, Ryan Skipper was gay; but his murder, like it or not, was about something else: Drugs. Specifically, it was about methamphetamine. But for meth, this murder wouldn’t have happened.

Methamphetamine manufacture and use is reaching epidemic proportions in this country. We don’t talk about it enough. In Bearden’s case alone, nearly every percipient witness was a dealer, user or both. To suggest that meth was not the motivating factor here is a disservice to the truth and, therefore, to Ryan’s memory.

That brings me to the trickier question of hate crime. Of course, it is always easier for friends and family to believe a victim was unknown to his killer–that he was not consorting with the likes of “Bill Bill” Brown and Joseph “Smiley” Bearden.

Anyone who works in criminal justice knows, however, that strangers rarely murder strangers. In this case, there is evidence that Ryan knew Bill Brown and knew him well, perhaps even intimately. Bill Brown and his associates clearly had issues with homosexuality, but Bill’s issues may have also been with his own sexuality, which makes the question of motive a lot more complicated than it appears at first blush. Social justice and criminal justice are not always the same.


Filed under: Hate Crime • Jami Floyd
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