Racist Describes Killing of Gay Man In Alabama

Reuters/August 5, 1999

Rockford, Ala. - A white supremacist told jurors Wednesday that he and an Alabama construction worker fatally beat a gay man in a crime so brutal that jurors were visibly shaken when they saw photographs of the corpse.

Steve Mullins, who pleaded guilty in June to beating to death Billy Jack Gaither in February, testified that he told defendant Charles Butler that he intended to kill Gaither before the evening that they met at a Rockford, Alabama, bar.

Mullins, 25. who has an SS tattoo on his hand, said he also told Butler that he was a racist.

Mullins' guilty plea was part of a plea-bargain agreement that got him a life sentence in exchange for his testimony against Butler, who has pleaded not guilty and if convicted faces the death penalty.

``I told him...what I was thinking about doing, killing Billy Jack,'' Mullins said. ``I said I was planning on getting rid of him.''

Mullins said he told Butler that Gaither had ``propositioned me, and I didn't like it, and I was planning on doing something about it.''

The hate crime drew nationwide attention, and President Clinton called it ``cowardly.''

Butler's murder trial began Tuesday after he turned down the plea-bargain agreement that would have given him life in prison without possibility of parole in exchange for pleading guilty.

Earlier Wednesday the victim's mother, Lois Gaither, broke into tears as a prosecutor was about to show photographs of her son's corpse to the jury. Members of the panel gasped when they saw the photographs, which showed Gaither beaten with an ax handle and his body burned.

As it became apparent what the pictures would depict, Mrs. Gaither's other son, who did not give his name, stood up and shouted, ``My mother doesn't need to see this.''

Police said Butler, 21, and Mullins beat Gaither to death after meeting him at a bar near Rockford, a tiny town in rural eastern Alabama between Birmingham and Montgomery.

The two men shoved Gaither into the trunk of his own car and drove him through three Alabama counties before killing him, police said. They then set fire to his body and dumped it beside Peckerwood Creek where it was found Feb. 20.

District Attorney Fred Thompson admitted into evidence a statement that Charles Butler Sr., the accused man's father, gave to police after his son's arrest. The statement quoted the father as saying his son confessed the crime to him immediately after it occurred.

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