HRC Urges FBI To Assist In The Investigation And Prosecution Of Colorado Hate Crime

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

involvement.

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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