Aaron Hall: killed twice, second time by media?

Dateline: Tue 08 May 2007

Is there a conspiracy of silence at the state's largest newspaper regarding the brutal beating death of Aaron Hall of Crothersville in Jackson County?

One has to wonder. Attorney/blogger Gary Welsh at Advance Indiana has raised the same question on his blog, and suggested that Hall's murder bears hallmarks of a classic hate crime.

Here's what the Crothersville Times reported May 2 on the case:

"Graphic details of what police believe occurred at a home on South Bethany Road on April 12 when Aaron C. Hall, 35, of Crothersville was assaulted and killed, were made public last Tuesday (April 24) when the three accused in connection with his slaying, Garrett Gray, 19, Coleman King, 18, both of Crothersville and Robert James (Jamie) Hendricks, 21, of Paris Crossing were arraigned before Jackson Circuit Court Judge William Vance.

"Hall's body was discovered Sunday, April 22, wrapped in a tarp in the garage at the residence of Garrett Gray on South Bethany Road (also known as County Road 1025 East) ten days after he was last seen.

Police say Hall, Gray and King were drinking at the Gray residence when a fight developed.

"The following information is taken from the probable cause affidavit filed with Jackson Circuit Court. Readers should be warned that information contained in the court document is graphic and may be offensive to some. The affidavit gives police accounts from interviews from witnesses and thus may only reveal one side of the matter.

"Sometime after April 13, John Hodge told police he had information on the disappearance and death of Hall. Indiana State Police Sgt. Rob Bays and Crothersville Police Capt. Vurlin McIntosh interviewed Hodge on Saturday, April 21.

"Hodge told police that as he was at work on the evening on April 12, he received a multi-media text message on his cell phone from Garrett Gray. Hodge said the photo showed Hall between Gray and King. Hall had a swollen black eye and a large, swollen lip, Hodge said.

Court documents indicate that about 15 minutes later, Hodge received a cell phone call from Jamie Hendricks who was at the Gray residence. Hodge said Hendricks told him, "They're beatin' the h--- out of that guy". Hodge told police he could hear screaming and yelling in the background and thought he heard Hall yelling "Bitches".

"Hodge said Hendricks told him Hall grabbed King in the groin and told him he wanted King to perform oral sex. Hendricks also said Hall made some comment about Gray's deceased mother. Then there was an altercation.

"According to Hodge, Hendricks told him that Gray and King were beating Hall and King "went crazy on Hall."

Advance Indiana's Welsh points out that Indiana is one of only 5 states without a hate crime law; he suspects the defendants may try to convince a jury that they suffered an attack of "gay panic" after Hall allegedly asked King for oral sex.

Most significantly, he -- and many others -- wonder why the Star has ignored the story. Here's what Welsh said yesterday:

"It's the type of story as a reporter I would dream of getting assigned to handle. You could write a book and sell the movies rights to it, for God sakes. I would think there would be a reporter there banging the editor's door down to get at this story. The paper is still supposed to be our state paper of record. It says so much about a part of the culture of our state which ties in to the political culture of the time as well. Besides, the story would sell papers. It's too compelling to overlook."

Welsh is well aware that the Star covered another grisley murder in Jackson County when a little girl, Katie Coleman, was abducted, raped and killed. That story had a lot of twists and turns; it took hard work from reporter Vic Ryckaert to stay on top of it. Also, the Star went to Fort Wayne to get the facts on journalism teacher Amy Sorrell, who was dismissed from her school for allowing a column about gay tolerance.

So why hasn't Aaron Hall's story been taken up? My guess is that the paper is so short-handed it can't spare reporters, but then again, everything is about priorities -- could somebody at the Star be blocing this story? My other speculation is that Jackson County is not in the Star's target zone for circulation. Why spend money to send a reporter out of town when the paper isn't readily available in that area? But with the push to online news, that makes no sense, either.

So once again, when it comes to how things are run at the Star, we have more questions than answers. Meantime, readers should demand more aggressive reporting.

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