An Alabama prosecutor will seek the death penalty for three suspects accused in the grisly murder of Scottie Weaver, an 18-year-old gay man, whose mutilated and badly burned body was discovered on July 22, four days after being attacked in his home. Reached by telephone on July 30, David Whetstone, Baldwin County’s district attorney, said that even though the state’s hate crime law does not include a provision for sexual orientation, he would prosecute the defendants for murdering Weaver due to his sexual orientation.
Whetstone said that he has not ruled out the possibility that the murderers were under the influence of drugs, but that the crime involved a certain amount of premeditation. “This crime did not take place on the spur of the moment,” said Whetstone, in an extended interview. “This boy did not die right away. There was time for them to stop.”
A medical examiner’s report confirmed that inside his home, Weaver was beaten, strangled and repeatedly lascerated by an edged weapon, before being set on fire. Whetstone would not comment about local news reports that Weaver’s genitals had been mutilated or that the young man had been sexually assaulted after he died. However, Whetstone mentioned that Alabama law does not include sodomy as an aggravating factor in obtaining a capital murder conviction, but that robbery is such a factor.
While the prosecutor considers robbery to be the primary motive, the wounds to the body, he said, suggest anti-gay bias.
The three suspects, two of whom knew Weaver since childhood and lived with him for a short while in a mobile home in Dobbins Trailer Park, robbed Weaver of approximately $80, the amount left over after Weaver dropped off his nightly earnings from the local Waffle House at his mother’s home.
Martha Weaver answered the telephone at her home in Pine Grove on the afternoon of August 4, but politely declined to answer questions, citing her inconsolable grief. A single mother, Mrs. Weaver suffers from diabetes and hypertension and was dependent on Scottie’s earnings. One of her other three surviving sons, Lum Weaver, a 24-year-old who relocated to Alabama from Louisiana to help his mother cope with the family’s loss, said he is still in shock about the horrible death of his younger brother. “Nobody around here could imagine they would do that to my brother.”
Sheriff’s deputies arrested Christopher Ryan Gaines, 20, and Nichole Kelsay, 18, friends of Weaver’s, along with Robert Holly Lofton Porter, 18, all of Bay Minette, in the central part of the county, the southernmost in Alabama. The two male suspects have had scrapes with the law, including harassment and criminal mischief, and had previously appeared before the same local judge, Carmen Bosch, who has ordered the three held without bond.
On Wednesday, Lum Weaver indicated that Gaines had been diagnosed with bipolar schizophrenia but had not taken medication for “quite a long time.” Weaver said that he only learned of Porter after his apprehension, even though the young man comes from the same, tight-knit community around Bay Minette.
The district attorney, Whetstone, said that he began to consider the victim’s sexual orientation as a motive in the murder when Mrs. Weaver held up a photograph of Scottie dressed in female clothing for TV cameras. “Part of the mutilation and part of the murder was due to his lifestyle,” said Whetstone, who credited a sheriff’s deputy, Lt. Huey “Hoss” Mack, Jr., with conducting an investigation that had collected corroborating physical evidence. “Hoss Mack is the best criminalist in the state,” said Whetstone.
In an interview last week, Mack said, “We feel very comfortable about the case. All three individuals made statements that will be used as evidence against them. There is also strong physical evidence.”
A news source in Alabama said that the story has generated a lot of media attention, not only because of its heinnous nature, but also because among younger people, there is a surprising acceptance for gay people and outrage that the three suspects committed such a ghastly act. “Scottie was friends with two of them since kindergarten. Porter came along and apparently objected to Scottie’s lifestyle and always called him a fag and whatnot, teasing him and then proceeded to make the others go along with him,” said the news source, who requested anonymity.
Lum Weaver, who is gay, said that their shared sexual orientation helped forged a close bond between the two brothers. As for the punishment his brother’s killers deserved, Weaver simply said, “Nothing in general. I know they’re going to get their just punshment either in the judicial system or before God.”
“There are some people who don’t hold others in proper regard,” said Whetstone, “I have put 30 or 40 on death row and if they’re guilty, I have no problem putting these three there.”
Appointed in the 1980s by former Democratic Gov. George Wallace, once a notorious segragationist, Whetstone has been Baldwin County’s district attorney for 20 years. In a wide-ranging interview, he spoke about the lives of gay people in the county and how this particular crime has jarred many people. “In north Baldwin, being a gay person would not be as acceptable as it would be in the southern part of the county, like around the Gulf,” said Whetstone, referring to the beachfront region along the Gulf of Mexico that includes luxury homes and vacation spots that attract out-of-state visitors, including artists and entertainers.
Whetstone said that he is not a fervent proponent of the death penalty, but that this case warrants a capital conviction. “I could do without it, but if you got it, you got to do somehting with it,” he said of the death penalty law. Whetstone said that unemployment and lack of education were frequent challenges for the families around Bay Minette where the suspects and victim were born and raised and had generational roots.
As for the betrayal the victim appaently suffered at the hands of childhood friends, Whetstone said, “Caesar wasn’t expected to be sold out by Brutus. Jesus wasn’t expected to be sold out by one of the twelve.” Whetstone acknowledged that there was a generational difference in opinion on matters such as same-sex marriage, with older people more apt to oppose such measures. “If anything,” said Whetstone, “it appears that increased numbers of people, especially in the northern part of the county, engage in bisexual behavior, including young folks.” Whetstone said his office is committed to ensuring that all residents in the county are treated with tolerance and respect. “I have sons and I have thought about if one of them was gay,” said Whetstone. “I suppose I would refer to what the Bible says about such things, but then if my son was to say he was gay and there was a man he wanted to spend his life with, well then that person would be family too.”
Last Sunday, about 100 people attended a candlelight vigil for Scottie Weaver in Mobile, about 40 miles away from Bay Minette. “I was pleasantly surprised by the turn-out,” said the mother of a gay man, Suzanne Cleveland, the Mobile leader of Parents, Friends of Lesbians and Gays, a national group. “There were about 100 people and usually we only get 10 or so when it’s for a gay meeting. It was very respectful and nice.” Cleveland said that people in the state, even those who do not support gay rights, are horrified about the crime. “I suppose this is one step in the right direction.”
Compass Bank of Alabama has established a relief fund for the Weaver Family and is accepting donations on their behalf. Checks should be made out to: The Scottie Weaver Fund, c/o Compass Bank, P.O. 7545, Spanish Fort, Alabama 36577.