Justice Sought In Gay Murder

More than 500 people turned out Tuesday for a candlelight vigil to call for answers in the beating death of a gay black man.

The body of 26-year-old Arthur "J.R." Warren was found last week. Two teen-agers accused of the crime face first-degree murder charges.

The two 17-year-old boys are accused of beating Warren to death with their fists and feet last week, then dumping him alongside a road and running him over with a car in a staged hit-and-run.

Police and prosecutors have repeatedly refused to reveal the nature of the teens' alleged confessions, but many people fear the motive was hatred; Warren was gay and black.

"Whether we want to admit it or not, these 17 year-old boys, these alleged killers, were products of this community," said Scott Britton of the West Virginia Gay and Lesbian Coalition.

The community has an obligation to its remaining children to dispel myths, shatter stereotypes, and fight fear and loathing. "We must teach our children to step off the sidelines," he said.

Warren's parents, Brenda and Arthur Sr., said they chose the community because "we felt it was very safe for us when it comes to raising kids," Mrs. Warren said.

"We just still haven't been able to comprehend how something like this could happen in this type of magnitude,"Mrs. Warren told CBS Early Showanchor Bryant Gumbel.

Saying that their son had previously encountered ever expressed fears to you for his safety as a result of either his harassment and name-calling, Warren's parents say the believe their son knew his attackers.

"That's the part that we can't understand, especially when we were told that they were familiar with each other and that they knew each other," Mrs. Warren said. "For someone to take and beat him the way that they said that they beat him and then to put him in the trunk of a car, to take him down a road, to dump his body on the side of the road like he was nobody and run over him several times and then come back and try to clean up the evidence and burn things, you know, that was just a lot of hate involved in doing something like that."

"We don't feel like it was something like the spur of the moment, you know, that someone did, and we can't understand. we really can't understand how someone could do this to another person, especially being the kind of person that J.R. was. He was such a kind-hearted person and giving person. He wasn't the type to fight."

However, Doris James, lead investigator for the Marion County Sheriff's Department, says the matter still has not been classified as a hate crime.

This investigation is not complete," she told Gumbel. "Tthere are still statements being taken. There's still forensic evidence being gathered, and until we have everything that we need, we're not ready to declare that this is or is not a hate crime."

There is a hearing Wednesday that will determine whether the wo suspects will be tried as juveniles or adults. If Warren's murder is found to be a hate crime, the two would face prosecution under more stringent, federal statutes, something his parents would like to see.

"We don't want to see this here happen to anyone else," Mrs. Warren said. "Nobody should have to endure this type of pain suffered on their loved ones."

And just like his parents, the people who have embraced Warren's memory want answers about the motive behind his death.

Kevin McCaulley, a Fairmont resident, is among those frustrated by the secrecy that continues to surround the Warren case. Court officials on Tuesday would not even reveal the date of the suspects' preliminary hearing.

"They're holding everything back and not letting anybody know what's going on," McCaulley said. "They say they run for the people. Well, this is a situation where the people want to know. We voted them in to let us know."

People in small communities throughout Marion County - places where people often leave doors unlocked - are now scared and angry.

"They need to let the public know what they're doing," said Theresa Cox of Fairview. "If they're not held accountable and tried as adults, something will happen. If they take the wrong steps, I believe something bad will happen."

Marion County Sheriff Ron Watkins knows Warren's death has changed his community forever. "It'll never go back to the way it was," he said.

Among other things, people will be looking for reasons in every murder.

But he added, "It will help ease tensions as far as race goes."

"People are showing a lot of love," Watkins said. "I have seen whites hugging blacks and I know that person is prejudiced, but somehow this has eliminated all that."

Father Jude Molnar, chaplain at Fairmont State College's Newman Center, made the challenge that lies ahead clear for all those gathered at the vigil.

"We've come here to say we will not accept this kind of violence in our society," he said. "We are going to stand up every time we experience this violence and protest against it until our people and our society realize it is not acceptable.

"No institution, no political organization, no group has the right to judge a fellow human being," Molnar said. "Take a stand against violence, brutality and hatred."

As the vigil wound down and their candles flickered, nearly every person in the crowd seemed to be asking for help.

They swayed and sang, their words echoing down the block: "Come by here, Lord, come by here. We really need you, Lord. Come by here."

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