Blaming the Victim: Portrayal of Florida Man Killed for Being Gay Doesn’t Ring True

William Brown, left, and Joseph Bearden, after their arrests in the killing of Ryan Skipper
William Brown, left, and Joseph Bearden, after their arrests in the killing of Ryan Skipper

It sounds like the Matthew Shepard story all over again, this time in Florida.

The body of a gay man, 25-year-old Ryan Keith Skipper, was found dumped on the side of the road last week in the flyover country between Tampa and Orlando, stabbed 20 times. Two men have been charged with the killing, which police are investigating as a hate crime.

The local paper, the Lakeland Ledger, quotes Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd as being unequivocal on the victim’s intentions.

“What we do know is that Ryan was out looking to pick up someone that evening,” Judd said.

The scenario doesn’t add up, friends say

Skipper was driving around Wahneta on Tuesday night when he found [21-year-old Joseph] Bearden walking along Sixth Street in Eloise about 11 p.m. Tuesday, and offered him a ride. The two went back to Skipper’s house, where they smoked marijuana and discussed using Skipper’s computer to copy checks, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

The scenario from the local news being disseminated to regional and national outlets, is that the victim, himself a lowlife, was out trolling for a hook-up and made a move on the wrong hombres. But almost nothing in that story adds up, according to people who knew him.

That’s where it starts to get kind of Pulp Fiction.

They left Skipper’s house with his laptop and went to another home, at 110 First St. in Wahneta, to meet [20-year-old William] Brown.

“At this time, they decided to rip Ryan off for his car and his laptop,” Judd said…

Judd said Brown and Bearden attacked Skipper inside his own car. His body was left by the side of the road, stabbed nearly 20 times.

The two suspects then drove to another home at 2131 Cypress Gardens Road, where they discarded some papers from the car. Their next stop was at 16 28th St. S. in Haines City to try to clean up the vehicle.

“The car was full of blood because the homicide had occurred in the vehicle,” Judd said.

Eventually, the paper said, after “parading” the car around and bragging to friends, the suspects abandoned it on a dock near a lake in the town of Winter Haven.

After they were taken into custody, homophobia was introduced as the motive for the murder and robbery.

Several more witnesses also were interviewed Friday night, and it was during one of those interviews that Brown’s admission was revealed.

“William Brown told (a witness) that Ryan Skipper was messing with him, that Ryan Skipper was a homosexual, so (he) killed him,” Judd said.

So much for the official story.

Comments on the newspaper’s online forum present a different view of the victim, and of the local reporting.

[This makes no sense, these guys are lying. Ryan had a computer and knew TONS of people, he had no need or reason to be “driving around looking to pick someone up”. His roommate also said he was on the phone with someone before leaving his home at approx. 11pm the night he was killed. These guys baited him, it was not a random on the street pick up.]

[I have to say that I was shocked and hysterical when my mom told me Ryan was murdered. I knew him when he worked at Kmart back in the day and from WHHS. He was always such a sweetheart and he made me feel like I belonged when no one else cared. I don’t believe for a minute that he was out trying to pick someone up. He had tons of friends he could have called to hang out with.]

[I have been in law enforcement for a long time and can tell you that the Ledger skews many stories when they get only a little bit of informtion from the PIO (Public Information Officer). It’s always funny to come in and read the paper after an incident that I was involved in and see what their interpretation of what was told to them is. Many times it is completely incorrect. I have been misquoted more times than I can count, which is one big reason I don’t speak to reporters any more.]

The bad light shed on the victim, a computer student at a local technical school, is already being challenged. Even more puzzling is why police would call this a hate crime and charge the two suspects with first-degree murder if — as the paper implies — Skipper was himself one of these bad seeds and was just out looking for trouble?

Sounds like there is more to this story, and I have a feeling the questions will keep coming.

20 Comments

  • chelsea Hill
    March 19, 2007 - 8:50 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for showing the skew of the Polk County media. I knew Ryan for three years and could not believe the story when I read about this heinous tragedy on The Ledger.com. Thank you again for at least making attempts on preserving Ryan’s character, so that his memory can be properly honored by all the many whose lives he touched.

  • T
    March 21, 2007 - 7:55 pm | Permalink

    Your’s is the first coverage that I have seen on Ryan that has shed any kind of positive light on his charecter. Ryan was my freind for almost ten years, NEVER would I think that he would be out “Cruzing”. It wasn’t him. I was left for dead in a feild after being strangled four years ago after giving a ride to a stranger. (Not a hate crime, My stupidity) and he was there even before my father… Ryan DID know better.

  • Damien Skipper
    March 21, 2007 - 11:09 pm | Permalink

    I am extremely grateful to find some information on the web that points out the flaws in not only the Central Florida media coverage but also the factually incorrect and homophobic quotes from Sheriff Grady Judd. My brother was a very intelligent and loving young man and it is reassuring to find a media outlet that actually calls to light the questionable reporting regarding his murder.

  • March 21, 2007 - 11:14 pm | Permalink

    Ryan Didn’t Even Own a Lap Top!!!!~~~Ryan Just Knew Better…LIES LIES LIES..Shame on The Newspaper….

  • ANGIE
    March 24, 2007 - 12:43 pm | Permalink

    I WAS FRIENDS WITH RYAN FOR 10 YEARS. THE PAPERS HAVE MADE HIM TO BE SOMETHING HES NOT. I THANK YOU FOR HELPING US WITH THIS. HE WAS A GREAT MAN AND IS SO MISSED. PLEASE HELP US KEEP THE WORD OUT I DONT WANT THIS TO HAPPEN AGAIN.

  • joyce
    March 25, 2007 - 2:23 pm | Permalink

    I want everyone to know that Ryan was a kind loving loyal person ;to know him was to love him.People like Ryan are easy pray for evil because they see goodness where there is none and trust people who are unworthy of it. The people who took his life have taken away a precious gift the world sorely needed.I miss him ;his warm smile and generous gentle spirit.

  • Karl
    March 27, 2007 - 7:50 pm | Permalink

    Ryan was one of my best friends and I was with him Tuesday night before he was killed. He and I had been out to dinner and he was going home to study and go to bed as he had to be up for school at 6:30am. I talked to him on the phone at 11:10 and all seem fine. I know what his plans where and what the paper has stated is just not true. Ryan # 1 priorty was school and making good grades. His smile was like sunshine and his heart was pure gold. I will miss him every day of my life, Till We Meet Again.

  • stephanie
    April 5, 2007 - 7:09 am | Permalink

    I have known Ryan for about 11 years. We grew up together and he was my best friend ever. I was disgusted when I saw the local news and read the local newspapers. Ryan was not like that and would never pick up random people and ask them for sex. He would never copy fake checks either. The news has made Ryan out to be something he wasn’t. It’s bad enough that we have to deal with the loss of a great friend, we shouldn’t have to see our friends name smeared the way that it has been. We are all outraged at what the media has said and moreso what Sheriff Grady Judd has said. The Sheriff should have contacted the family or any of Ryan’s many friends and asked questions before repeating the killers account of what happened that night to the media. As angry as I am with the media, I am pleased to see information on the web that raises the same questions that we as his friends and family want answers to as well. Thank you. Ryan was a wonderful person with a heart of gold and there will never be another person to touch as many lives as he did. I will never be the same without him. I was waiting for him to come over after school the morning that his body was found. He was coming to work on my computer and see his god daughter. We had so many plans that are left undone. He will be greatly missed by all of us. I LOVE YOU RYAN

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  • Ash
    April 8, 2007 - 10:26 am | Permalink

    As an experienced investigator, I have to say the following:

    (a) Demand a toxicology screening on Ryan’s remains, specifically for THC. An examination of his lung tissue and sinus cavities should also be performed to provide evidence of usage of marijuana (or lack thereof) the evening of his murder.

    (b) Subpoena his residential phone records and examine the incoming calls that night. This will either tie the suspects back to the event (thus giving rise to a suspicion of premeditation) or give additional witnesses to interview (who called him? why?).

    (c) Has anyone interviewed the people the suspects allegedly bragged to about the murder? What did they have to say? What did they see and hear?

    (d) According to the roommate, one of the suspects is a relative of the landlord. Has anyone questioned this landlord or the roommate regarding prior interaction between the suspect and Ryan (of any kind, hostile or benign)? Establish a prior pattern of behavior and extrapolate – it gives you more information and additional sources to interview.

    (e) Was Ryan’s vehicle equipped with any sort of monitoring device? GPS anti-theft, Speedpass, OnStar, or any similar system that could conceivably be used to track his movements that evening? Did he own and carry a cellphone with him that night? Was it on, and what do the cell provider’s logs show for tower switchovers? The range of digital PCS phones in the USA is sharply limited, so movement of a given cellphone can easily be tracked with a relatively small margin for error, provided the device is powered up (but not necessarily in use) while moving.

    Some things to think about.

  • obscurifer
    April 13, 2007 - 11:23 am | Permalink

    I just hope that the “gay panic” excuse burns when the perps do.

  • Freedem
    May 10, 2007 - 12:06 pm | Permalink

    This story is only a tiny window on a very large problem, the corruption of the justice system in the area goes far beyond this case of “Blaming the Victim”.

    Someone needs to make a much deeper investigation.

  • Clyde
    June 8, 2007 - 10:35 am | Permalink

    I am in utter shock. My wife and I were in training with Ryan at a telemarketing company in WH way back in 2004 during the hurricanes. Ryan seemed comfortable with himself but not in your face gay. He was a very awesome person who seemed to brighten up the gloom. My prayers go out to his loved ones.

  • jenna
    June 25, 2007 - 2:46 pm | Permalink

    i know that all of ryans friends and family know him in the way that they are describing him…but it doesnt mean that the events didnt happen as they were reported. So what if he WAS smoking weed and so what if he WAS looking for someone to pick up on? These are both very personal things and things that Ryan may not have shared with other people. It doesnt make him a low life nor a bad person, if it is true , at the most it means he may have made some bad choices. So what? who doesnt?
    It is obvious that Ryan was a wonderful guy by the comments from his friends and relatives…and what anyone else thinks doesnt matter in the least anyhow. The real issue here is that he was murdered. I am very very sad foor those that knew and loved him, and also for those that never had the chance to know and love him. My sincere condolences to you all.

  • squiid
    July 15, 2007 - 4:10 pm | Permalink

    differing standards? for “straight” republican senators and gay men?

    It’s unfortunate that political enemies and the news media have turned this past mistake/sin – before he was even in the Senate – into a feeding frenzy and a license to report false rumors.

    Some person or persons working in the US Senate has created or copied a list of talking points which they describe “Key Talking Points”

    Link

  • iso
    July 19, 2007 - 4:36 am | Permalink

    Hi-
    I know next to nothing about this story (just what appears on this page) and got here in a crazy roundabout way, but wanted to add my 2cents after reading the comments – hope you don’t mind….

    First, I was struck by the judgmental tone of those decrying the activity of ‘cruising.’ This is not necessarily something that makes a person a sleaze ball if they happen to indulge such a thing. Even if a person ‘has many friends they can call,’ some people are yet titillated by the excitement of ‘a stranger.’ The level of safety tho’ depends on how you go about it, some thrive on danger aspect, unfortunately.

    [just noted Jenna’s comment above and I agree]

    Sex in our culture is so tainted with issues of shame, guilt, biblical imperatives, etc. that we make it very hard for people to have healthy sex lives and not feel badly about it. Working toward eliminating these things will greatly improve the many ills surrounding it! IMHO

    As for the case specifically – again, minuscule info to go by, it is conceivable, that a very nice, respectable young man offered a ride to someone just to see if it would lead to a fun, safe encounter (looking at those perp photos, I would not consider either of them “fun” nor “safe”).

    Just using intuition, it seems Ryan was probably being nice, dropped any idea of a ‘romp’ and was duped by two who saw criminal opportunity and were evil. I hope there will be no chance of a ‘gay panic’ defense, because these two seemed to willingly continue keeping their company with Ryan and would have likely known of his orientation early on. So no claim of sudden fear and threat could be made.

    Condolences to you all, RS sounds like a great guy indeed, wishing you justice and the best.

  • Todd Johnson
    July 19, 2007 - 12:50 pm | Permalink

    I had known Ryan since 2001. I worked with him for a brief time and knew his boyfriend from then as well. I can say for certain that Ryan was a very self-confidant guy and there was NO WAY he would pick someone up at random, whether on the street or even in a bar.
    I am glad to see I’m not the only one who found this account of the events in March to be completely false. I am not surprised that the victim is made to be shady if he happens to be gay, just sickened by it. They have PLENTY of people to whom they could speak to get an idea of what Ryan was like, but they chose to make something up out of whole cloth instead.
    Though they have tainted him in the eyes of those that didn’t know him (and probably don’t care about his story anyway), the media can never dim the memory of the good person Ryan was in the minds of his friends.

  • July 28, 2007 - 8:49 am | Permalink

    We deleted a very nasty comment from this thread because hatred and self-loathing are off-topic here.

  • elotrolado
    October 1, 2007 - 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Whether Ryan was cruising for sex is a non issue. Hello, a person was murdered. Can we focus on that?

    Why does everyone go stupid when the words “sex” or “drugs” come up?

  • Robert
    November 25, 2007 - 6:56 pm | Permalink

    Those suspects don’t look ‘hot’ to me…someone as cute as Ryan could easily do better than that. What probably happened: the two loosely knew Ryan as ‘relatives’ of Ryan’s landlord. They asked for a ride. He gave them a ride (it was a short distance) but then they killed him, partly for his car and partly because he was gay.

    Also, why do the media report he died on March 14? Given the timeline, he most likely died just after midnight…

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