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Gay Man Killed by Two Men Upset Over Sexual Advance

By Sue Anne Pressley

Two young men in the central-Alabama town of Sylacauga who told police they were upset over a sexual advance by a gay man have admitted they planned his murder for two weeks, then bludgeoned him to death with an ax handle and threw his body onto burning tires.

Talladega County sheriff’s deputies identified the men Thursday as Charles Monroe Butler Jr., 21, and Steven Eric Mullins, 25. The two were arrested earlier this week and charged with murder in the Feb. 19 slaying of Billy Jack Gaither, 39, who friends said made no secret of his homosexuality.

The slaying, whose details emerged only Thursday, carried horrific echoes of the murder of Matthew Shepard by two young men in Wyoming last October in similar circumstances. That killing aroused a national outcry against hate crimes and generated calls for federal legislation to impose stiffer punishments on such conduct.

Marion Hammond, owner of a straight bar called The Tavern in Sylacauga, said she saw Gaither the Friday night of the killing with one of the accused men. “The last time I saw Billy Jack,” said said, “I was standing outside the bar talking to my husband and he said, ’Don’t worry about that man sitting in my car -- he’s just not ready to come in yet.’ Well, I respected his privacy, and I said fine.”

Later, she said, she learned the man was Mullins; Gaither and Mullins drove to another Sylacauga bar, The Frame, and picked up Butler, she said, citing local news reports.

Hammond described Gaither, who worked at Russell Industries in nearby Alexander City, as a likable man who, while never denying he was homosexual, “made a point of never doing the gay thing when he was at our place.” She said he would often spend part of the evening at The Tavern and the rest at a gay bar in Birmingham.

Gaither was “a good-looking man,” she said, “dark-complected, about six-foot-two. He was one of those people who looked better with his glasses on. Those pictures they’ve been showing on TV don’t do him justice.”