"The initial investigation shows the cause of death to be blunt force trauma," said Deputy Sheriff Al Bradley.
In details chillingly similar to the beating death last October of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, the suspects in this case reportedly planned the attack after one complained the victim had made a pass at him.
It was hatred of Gaither's homosexuality that allegedly resulted in his murder along the banks of a murky creek, where the 39-year-old man was beaten to death with an ax handle and his body burned.
Steven Eric Mullins, 25, and Charles Monroe Butler Jr., 21, were arrested earlier this week and charged with murder. They are each being held on $500,000 bail. Police say Butler confessed Monday after telling officers he couldn't sleep, and Mullins admitted his involvement two days later.
At least one family member denied Gaither was homosexual. Townspeople say it doesn't matter. "What they done to Billy Jack - nobody deserves nothing like that. Something has to be wrong with somebody who can do something like that to another person," said Marian Hammond, the owner of The Tavern, a bar Gaither frequented on weekends.
Nobody's quite sure exactly how many hate crimes based on sexual orientation there are in America because no two states keep track of them the same way. In 1997, the last reporting year, Alabama reported it had none - no hate crimes whatsoever.
"This shows that there is a patchwork of different laws in different states and a different urgency in different states - and that's why we need a very strong federal response that is uniform throughout the country," said David Smith of the Human Rights Campaign.
Alabama is one of 19 states with hate-crime laws that don't cover offenses related to sexual orientation.
State Rep. Alvin Holmes has filed a bill that would extend Alabama's law to cover gays. Holmes said he was moved to file the bill by the slaying of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard in Wyoming. The gay college student was beaten and left tied to a fence to die last autumn.
The FBI said Friday it is monitoring the Sylacauga burning, but has left the case to local authorities.