Tag Archives: Ryan Skipper

News & Comment

Town Where Once a Man Was Killed for Being Gay Now Shields Its Residents from Westboro Baptist Hate

Photo taken by Calvin Knight of the Lakeland Ledger

Somewhere, Ryan Skipper is smiling.

No, Ryan Skipper is laughing, high-fiving, and doing the chicken dance. Or maybe that’s just us, upon hearing the recent state of affairs in Lakeland, Fla.

One person who might not have gotten the anti-homophobia message is Sheriff Grady Judd

The same place where, in 2007, 25-year-old Ryan Skipper was bound and brutally stabbed, leaving his car so bloodied that the his murderers, who planned to steal it, drove it off a dock instead — all because, as they told investigators, Ryan was gay — the very same Lakeland citizenry has now massed together to fight off the Westboro Baptist Church, known for its nonsensical hate-mongering against homosexuals.

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News & Comment

Trayvon Martin and the Fifth Anniversary of the Murder of Ryan Skipper

Lynn Mulder, center, standing between her sons, Damien Skipper, left, and Ryan Skipper
Lynn Mulder, center, standing between her sons, Damien Skipper, left, and Ryan Skipper
As details have come to light about the murder of Trayvon Martin last month in Sanford, Fla., the questions being raised about police conduct in the case bring to mind the way police in Polk County, Fla., which is about 75 miles southeast of Sanford, handled the case of Ryan Skipper who was murdered there five years ago this month.

Except for the fact that both murders were senseless and tragic, and both crimes took down young men who should have had long and promising lives ahead of them, the circumstances around the murders diverge. Ryan was robbed, stabbed 20 times by a pair of crazed meth heads who left him to die on a dirt road near Wahneta. Trayvon was allegedly stalked inside the grounds of a gated community by an over-zealous and seemingly paranoiac community watch volunteer who shot him apparently during a struggle.

There are striking parallels, however. Both cases involved some sketchy police conduct, the murders both occurred in Central Florida and both victims were young and members of minority groups. Trayvon Martin was 17 and African-American, and Ryan Skipper was 25 and gay.

It took a month or so for the Martin case to gain attention, and now it has become a firestorm. In the Skipper case, the shock was immediate, but because of the way Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd characterized the case in his first news conference, interest in it in the national media fizzled over night.

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News & Comment

Second Killer of Ryan Skipper Convicted Eight Days After Signing of Gay Hate Crime Law

Ryan Skipper, left, Damien Skipper, Pat and Lynn Mulder
Ryan Skipper, left, Damien Skipper, Pat and Lynn Mulder

The last few weeks must have been bittersweet for the family and friends of Ryan Skipper, the fresh-faced 25-year-old student who was killed by a pair of young meth addicts in Polk County, Fla., two years ago because he was gay.

From the moment they were thrust in the spotlight by this deeply personal tragedy, Ryan’s parents, Pat and Lynn Mulder, and his brother, Damien Skipper, have shown the world what grace in the wake of tragedy looks like.

A long and heart-rending chapter in their saga ended on Tuesday when a jury in Polk County found the second suspect in the killing, William “Bill-Bill” Brown, now 23, guilty of first-degree murder. He will be sentenced to life in prison next month. In February, Joe “Smiley” Bearden, now 22, the other suspect, was found guilty and also sentenced to life.

Eight days earlier, on Oct. 28, Damien Skipper and his wife, Tricia, were on hand in Washington when, after a years-long slog through Congress and vitriolic opposition from Republicans, Pres. Obama signed legislation that expands federal hate crimes statutes to cover gay and transgendered people.

After the verdict against Brown, Ryan’s family issued this statement:

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News & Comment

Local Publisher Regrets Not Covering Hate Crime Murder of Ryan Skipper

Just ran across this item in the Daily City and had to pass it along. In an interview about the 15th anniversary of the founding of Watermark, a gay news source serving Tampa Bay and other Florida metro areas, publisher Tom Dyer acknowledged missing an important story in his market and to the nation:

In the final analysis, Ryan Skipper was assaulted twice — first, fatally by his homophobic killers and then in the media by the homophobic sheriff of Polk County.

[Daily City]: In 15 years of publishing Watermark, what has been your biggest regret?

Tom Dyer: We should have jumped on the Ryan Skipper story immediately. This young Polk County man’s murder just a few years ago was every bit as gruesome as Matthew Shepard’s, and every bit as telling about the persistence of violent homophobia in our area. There was almost no coverage in the mainstream press, and I let that influence my judgment. Big mistake, and I still regret it.

The fact that there was no coverage in the mainstream media about Ryan’s death in March 2007 is directly attributable to egregious malpractice by the top law enforcement official involved in the case, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.

At his first news conference about the case, four days or so after the murder and hours after the arrests of Joe Bearden and William Brown, a couple of young meth heads with criminal records, Judd presented the media with a tick-tock of events around the murder that was based entirely on accounts given to investigators by Bearden and Brown.

According to Judd, Ryan — a clean-cut, 25-year-old student — was out looking for rough trade that night and picked up Bearden in what was purported to be a known cruising area in the rural community of Wahneta. He then took Bearden home where, interestingly, they did not have sex but instead smoked pot and schemed to forge checks using Ryan’s computer.

That mistaken profiling of a gay victim would be bad enough, but the clincher came in Judd’s own take on what happened:

“What we do know is that Ryan was looking for someone to pick up that evening. And unfortunately for Ryan, he picked up the wrong person.”

In other words, Ryan was asking to be murdered and got what he deserved.

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News & Comment

Second Skipper Murder Suspect Drops Plea Bargain

A quick update about developments in the trial of the accused murderers of Ryan Skipper:

Family and friends of Ryan Skipper gathered on the ninth floor of the Polk County Courthouse at 9 a.m. Monday expecting a plea bargain from William Brown, charged with murdering their gay son two years ago. Brown, however, had changed his mind about pleading guilty to first degree murder.

“We were hopeful,” said Lynn Mulder, Skipper’s [step] father. “We’d like to get this part of it over so the healing can begin.”

In February, Joseph Bearden was convicted of second-degree murder in the stabbing death of Skipper and sentenced to life.

Brown is now scheduled for trial on Oct. 12 — the same month the Mulder’s oldest son is getting married.

And congratulations to Damien Skipper on his upcoming marriage.

News & Comment

Bearden Found Guilty in Murder of Ryan Skipper

Joe “Smiley” Bearden, one of two men accused of killing Ryan Skipper, a gay student, was found guilty of second degree murder today in a courtroom in Bartow, Florida. After deliberating for two days, the jury also found him guilty of grand theft of an automobille, tampering with evidence, receiving stolen property and accessory to robbery after the fact.

The second defendant, William “Bill Bill” Brown, faces trial on similar charges. His trial is expected to take place in the fall of 2009.

Coverage of the verdict:

  • Lakeland Ledger: Bearden Sentenced to Life in Prison
  • Towleroad: Killer of Florida Gay Man Ryan Skipper Found Guilty on All Counts
  • Equality Florida: Ryan Skipper’s Killer Found Guilty
  • 365 GAy: Life Sentence for murder of Ryan Skipper
News & Comment

Bombshell in Skipper Murder Trial: Second Defendant Claimed He Was Raped by His Father

TruTV’s live coverage of the Ryan Skipper murder trial yesterday in Bartow, Fla., was interrupted yesterday by coverage of another case, which is unfortunate because a potentially significant new allegation was revealed in testimony given while the cameras were dark.

According to witness John Kirchoff — who was part of a cadre of meth addicts who were associates of defendants Joe Bearden and William Brown — within hours after Skipper’s murder, he had a conversation with Brown, who told him, “I killed him, man. I killed him.”

And then, according to Kirchoff, Brown claimed that his father had raped him, apparently more than once.

Here’s a rough transcript of the report by TruTV’s Jean Casarez:

What I think what is interesting here is that Bill Brown, the co-defendant, is really coming into this case even stronger in regard to the murder count, because we just had a witness before lunch — it would be John Kirchoff — who said that Bill Brown, the next morning, was knocking on the window — and I’m talking about March 14. Came in. He [Kirchoff] was alone with [Brown, who] started to cry.

And he said, “I killed him, man. I killed him.” Now here’s what I haven’t been able to tell you that I think is important from [Brown]. According to John Kirchoff, this excited untterance of “I killed him, man. I killed him” — he never talks about the defendant Bearden, but what he does talk about is his own father. How he hates his own father because his father has held a knife and a gun to him before, forcing him to engage in homosexual sex.

So, yes, the father engaged his own son in sex. That’s the co-defendant, Bill Brown. So maybe we’re seeing a clue here why the prosecution has not proceeded with the hate crime — that the motivation, especially with [Bill Brown], could be something else.

The Lakeland Ledger also described Kirchoff’s testimony:

Kirchoff … testified that Brown came back in the morning and was very upset.

He recalled Brown was sobbing and talking about how his father molested him at knife- and gunpoint.

Brown then stopped crying, stared at Kirchoff and said, “I killed him,” according to Kirchoff.

Kirchoff said he assumed Brown was confessing to killing his father because he had previously been talking about the past sexual abuse.

“It scared the hell out of me,” Kirchoff said.

He tried to describe Brown’s facial expression.

“He looked evil,” Kirchoff said.

If you are just tuning into the trial, note that Brown and Bearden are being tried separately, and the proceedings currently underway are in the case against Bearden. Bearden admits he was involved in events on the night of the murder but denies he was in Ryan Skipper’s car when Skipper was stabbed 20 times and then left to die on a gravel road in a rural area.

Bill Brown will be tried later this year.

News & Comment

Will Homophobia Trump Justice in the Trial of Ryan Skipper’s Accused Killer?

TruTV legal analysts covering the trial in Bartow, Fla., of one of the men accused of killing Ryan Skipper spent considerable air time yesterday speculating about the prosecution’s decision to remove the hate-crime charge against the defendant, Joseph Bearden.

The anti-gay bigotry came to light from the first minute the story of Ryan’s murder broke, when Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd essentially told reporters that Ryan was asking to be killed because he was gay

It is true that Bearden and his co-defendant, William Brown, who will be tried later, knew that Skipper was gay. And the level of brutality in the murder — they stabbed Ryan 20 times and then dumped him, still clinging to life, on the side of rural road — suggests the two young meth addicts had motives beyond just fencing Ryan’s car for drug money.

Bearden has been in prison since he was charged with the murder two years ago. He has covered himself in tattoos, including a dagger or spike on his face that appears to pierce his skull above and blow his left eye, a large cobra in strike pose on his chest and neck and a small teardrop under his right eye. In gang and prison culture, teardrop tattoos are usually a sign that the bearer is a murderer.

The TruTV analysts speculated that hate-crime charge was dropped because prosecutors feared it would make the jury less sympathetic to the gay victim and more inclined to be lenient with the defendant — the young man sitting before them with a tacit admission of guilt tattooed on his face.

The prosecutors in Polk County expressed similar concerns to Ryan’s Skipper’s family:

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News & Comment

Ryan Skipper’s Accused Killer Appears in Court with Face Tattoo Marking Him As a Murderer

Witness testimony began yesterday in the trial of Joseph Bearden, one of the two men accused of the cold-blooding killing of Ryan Skipper, an openly gay man, in Florida in March 2007. The trial of William Brown, the other accused killer, has not yet been scheduled. Both men face the death penalty if convicted.

Joe Bearden with teardrop tattoo

It is encouraging to learn that TruTv (formerly Court TV) is broadcasting Bearden’s trial live. In the channel’s preview of the case in the video above (which we found at Unfinished Lives), we learned that there have been a couple of interesting developments.

The first is that the prosecution has decided that the alleged killers’ motive for the murder was not violent homophobia — although the record indicates that Bearden and Brown must have been aware that Skipper was gay. Instead of prosecuting the murder as a hate crime, however, the state contends that Bearden and Brown decided to steal Skipper’s new car and sell it, most likely to get money for drugs.

Despite the fact that they stabbed Ryan at least 20 times inside the car before leaving him to die on the side of a road, Bearden and Brown reportedly attempted to sell the car several times in the few days before they were arrested.

From the TruTv report we also learn that during his nearly two-year incarceration, Joe Bearden has tattooed his face and upper body. The tattoo on his face appears to depict a teardrop, which in gang culture is a sign that the bearer has committed murder.

But mainly the report confirms what we already knew: Joe Bearden and William Brown are two of the biggest dumbasses ever to walk the planet. The tragedy is that a young man like Ryan Skipper, who had a wide circle of friends and a loving family, and whose life held such promise, ever crossed their paths.

Regular readers of these pages will remember that we covered this case extensively. You can catch up on it here.

News & Comment

Huckabee Cites Lack of Violence in Dismissing Gay Civil Rights Struggle

In an appearance on “The View” last week, Mike Huckabee congratulated American voters for electing their first black president, noting how far the country has come since the days of segregation. And then — at 0:55 on the video above — co-host Joy Behar asked him about gay civil rights:

BEHAR: You’re very passionate about [progress on African-American civil rights], I see. But do you feel that way about gay rights, too?

HUCKABEE: It’s a different set of rights. People who are homosexual should have every right in terms of their civil rights to be employed, to do anything they want, but that’s not really the issue … But when we’re talking about a redefinition of an institution, that’s different from individual civil rights. And — you know — we’re never going to convince each other of that…

BEHAR: But segregation was an institution, too, in a way. It was right there in the books.

HUCKABEE: But there’s a difference. Bull Connor was hosing people down in the streets of Alabama. You had John Lewis getting his skull cracked on the bridges of Selma. Look, that’s wrong…

BEHAR: Gay bashing goes on, too.

HUCKABEE: There’s Christian bashing — look what happened to the lady out in California the other day. She’s out there — she’s 69 years old, holding a cross. People come up — violence is wrong. It doesn’t matter who’s behind it.

Huckabee’s scattershot outbursts reveal the flimsiness of the Christian moralists’ rationale against gay civil rights. First he asserts that there is a magic threshold, a tipping point, of violence that gay people must endure before the majority will grant them equal rights. Then he counters the argument that current levels of hate-crime violence against gays, which includes murder and life-threatening assaults, ought to be sufficient, by citing an incident of “Christian bashing” in which an elderly anti-gay protester in Palm Springs was shoved and the cross she had carried to a gay marriage rally was knocked from her hands.

Footage of the Christian bashing incident, which you can see in the video below, backs up the story that Phylliss Burgess, 69, was shuffled around by the crowd and, indeed, someone knocked her cross down.

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