Ryan Skipper Murder Trial Update
As the trial of Ryan Skipper's accused murderer unfolds, it is clear that anti-gay hatred played a significant role in Ryan's murder. According to a witness who took the stand yesterday:
"He (Bearden) said he didn't like gays."
Prosecutors then revealed that the same witness previously told police:
"(Bearden) felt he was doing the world a favor by getting rid of one more faggot."
Today is just the third full day of the trial of Joseph Bearden, one of the two accused murderers of Ryan Skipper. Ryan was a well-loved young gay man who lived his life openly in one of Florida's most rural and conservative areas - Polk County.
In March of 2007, Ryan was brutally stabbed 19 times. According to witnesses, two suspects drove Ryan's blood-soaked car around and bragged to their friends about savagely killing him.
After a month of scant attention in the media following Ryan's murder, Equality Florida joined with Ryan's family and friends to host a 14-city vigil to commemorate Ryan and to shine a spotlight on the epidemic of anti-LGBT hate violence. Over 1,000 people came out to show their love and support and to condemn the media's lack of coverage.
Hate crime laws provide a penalty enhancement in Florida. However, since Bearden is being tried for capital murder, there is no greater penalty. While the prosecutor has chosen to downplay to hate-crime aspect of Ryan's murder during trial, Ryan's family has stood strong in their resolve to shine a light on the horrible impact hate crimes have on families and communities.
To that end, they issued the following statement on the first day of the trial:
Our son, Ryan Skipper, was a beautiful human being and a gift to our family and his friends. That gift has been taken away from all of us and nothing will change that.
This trial will be painful to all who love Ryan and cherish his memory. We are grateful to everyone who has sent their love and support to our family from the tragic day to the beginning of this trial.
We know that hate is at the root of this terrible crime. While Florida has a hate crime penalty enhancement law, we recognize that a hate crime charge is not being pursued because a first-degree murder conviction already brings the harshest penalty the court can impose.
We will continue to speak out against prejudice and hate violence. Anti-gay hate crimes have increased dramatically in Florida over the past 5 years according to reports from the Florida Attorney General. We all have a responsibility to speak out against hate crimes and we all must seek justice for the victims.
We've been advised to prepare for "blame-the-victim" tactics, which are frequently used by those trying to escape justice. They have taken his life but we will not allow them to sully our memories of our son, brother and friend. Nothing that is said at trial could ever shake our confidence in that. We will remain focused on seeking justice for the life that has been taken. Ryan was loved and important to his family and friends, a good and valuable member of this community and society.
Equality Florida members Vicki Nantz and Mary Meeks have graciously stepped up to be the family's spokespersons during their difficult, daily attendance at the trial.
To ready daily updated from Vicki and Mary, visit www.cfbulletin.com and click on the "Skipper Trial" link.
Email Gov. Crist and Attorney General Bill McCollum. Ask them to loudly condemn the anti-gay hate violence brought to light by Ryan Skipper's murder.
Only when our state leadership loudly condemns hate violence, can we begin to heal that hate.