The Human Rights Campaign in a letter on August 10th urged the FBI to
open an investigation into the murder of Fred Martinez Jr. in Cortez,
Colorado, as a hate crime based on race and/or sexual orientation.
“We hope the FBI can step up and do everything in its power to
ensure that the Martinez case is handled appropriately and that it is
successfully prosecuted,” said HRC National Field Director, Seth Kilbourn.
“Our intent is to make sure that the local law enforcement officials have
all the resources they need to successfully prosecute this case.”
On June 21, Fred Martinez, Jr., a 16-year-old, Native American high
school student – who described himself as openly gay, transgender and
“two-spirit” – was found beaten to death. Shaun Murphy, 18, has been charged
with second-degree murder and police were told that Murphy had bragged to a
friend that “he had beat up a fag.” While the local authorities have a
suspect in custody, there is some doubt regarding the quality of the
evidence collected so far and the autopsy report is indeterminate regarding
cause of death.
“We are concerned that the local authorities in this case are in
need of assistance to ensure that the case is fully investigated and
successfully prosecuted,” said HRC Deputy Legal Director and Senior Counsel
Kevin Layton in the letter.
Federal law does not allow the Department of Justice and the FBI to
investigate hate crimes based solely on the victim’s sexual orientation.
Current law only covers hate crimes based on race, religion, national origin
and color. Recent press reports indicate that the murder may be a hate crime
based on not only on sexual orientation, but also on race or national
origin. And because the alleged perpetrators would have had to cross a
state line to commit the crime, there may be a legal basis for federal
On July 26, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12-7 vote in favor of
sending the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act (LLEEA) to the full
Senate. LLEEA would extend basic hate crime protections to all Americans
in all communities by adding real or perceived sexual orientation, gender
and disability to the categories covered by existing federal hate crimes law
as well as by removing the federally protected activity requirement. The
bill would also provide federal technical and financial assistance to state
and local law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute hate crimes.
“If the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act were in effect today,
there would be no question that the federal government could assist law
enforcement officials in Cortez,” said Kilbourn. “But today, we can only
ask and hope that the FBI and Department of Justice will be able to make
such assistance available under current law.”
According to the Colorado Anti-Violence Program – which is also
monitoring the Martinez case – no training is required for law enforcement
officers in Colorado on how to identify, investigate, or document incidents
of violence motivated by bias. CAVP estimates that fewer than 10 percent of
officers in the state have received any training about hate crimes.
The mother of the victim, Pauline Mitchell, has said she reported
Martinez missing on June 18, called the police two days later, read about a
body being found on June 23 and called the police again when she was told
that the body had not been identified. Press reports also have indicated
that the Sheriff’s office initially said that the teenager might have
fallen, hit his head and died then later called the death a homicide.
In addition, Mitchell said she first learned of the autopsy results – the
victim’s skull fracture, the slashed abdomen, the bleeding – in the
newspaper. She has also indicated that she was left to discover the spot
where her son died on her own and found the site strewn with garbage and
discovered some of her son’s blood-matted hair on the site. The family was
also not notified of the arraignment of Murphy, according to press reports,
and the District Attorney was quoted as saying that his office had not been
informed of the arraignment and that he just “happened to be there.”
A Denver memorial is planned to express comfort and support for
Mitchell and her family at the Troy Chavez Memorial Peace Garden on Friday,
August 10. Ms. Ana Chavez founded the Native American sacred space in honor
of her son, a victim of violence.
On Saturday, August 11 Judy Shepard – mother of slain Wyoming
University student Matthew Shepard and member of HRC’s Board of Directors-
will join Mitchell in a candlelight vigil at the Parque de Vida Amphitheater
in Cortez. The vigil is being organized by Parents, Families and Friends of
Lesbians and Gays, PFLAG Durango/Four Corners, the Four Corners Gay &
Lesbian Alliance for Diversity, the Colorado Anti-Violence Program, and the
Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. The vigil is part of a five-day
statewide series of events. PFLAG has asked its chapters across the country
to hold similar vigils to remember Martinez
“Nearly three years ago, the intense media attention focused on my
son’s death was a wake-up call for all of us: it brought the epidemic of
hate violence out of obscurity and into the public debate,” said Shepard.
“I see Fred’s death, combined with a recent escalation of hate-violence
across the country, as a clear sign that there is much more to be done
before we can live free from fear and hate.”
In 1999, the last year for which the FBI has statistics, there were
more than 4,000 reported hate crimes based on race, more than 1,400 based on
religion, 1,300 based on sexual orientation, 830 based on ethnicity and 19
based on disability. Colorado is one of eighteen states that do not include
sexual orientation in its hate crimes law; and one of 46 states that do not
include gender identity.
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