Teen Convicted of Killing Two Gay Men
LAUREL, Miss. (AP) _ A teen-ager was convicted Thursday of murdering two gay men in a robbery, despite claims he was trying to avoid being raped and infected with the AIDS virus.
Marvin McClendon, a 17-year-old high school sophomore, was sentenced to two consecutive life prison terms by Circuit Judge Billy Landrum. The Jones County Circuit Court jury deliberated nearly five hours.
McClendon showed no emotion as the verdict was read.
``Justice was served,″ said Gary Walters, father of victim Robert Walters. He hugged family members, but made no other comment before leaving the courthouse.
District Attorney Jeannene Pacific said the verdict ``restores my faith in people doing what is right and what is just.″
The prosecution claimed McClendon is a troubled youth who stole $100 from the men before he killed them.
Defense lawyer J. Ronald Parrish, however, claimed that McClendon shot Walters, 34, and Joseph Shoemake, 24, while fighting off unwanted sexual advances and out of fear that he might be infected with HIV.
Parrish called the verdict ``a defeat for justice and people who want to keep their children safe from people trolling the streets.″
``It’s apparently open season,″ he said, ``and you better keep the kids off the street.″
McClendon’s family left the courthouse without commenting.
AIDS tests were performed on the victims after their bodies were found near an abandoned railroad track in October.
Earlier Thursday, Landrum allowed the defense to tell jurors that Walters was infected with the AIDS virus when McClendon killed the men. Shoemake’s test was negative.
``It’s weighed on my mind and my heart quite heavily,″ Landrum said in his ruling. ``I think the jury is entitled to know the whole fact in the case.″
Landrum had previously ordered the test results sealed.
The case sent shockwaves through this quiet, conservative southeast Mississippi community.
McClendon’s first trial was canceled last week because the 70-member jury pool lacked enough black members. The 12-member panel seated Tuesday included five blacks. McClendon is black; Walters and Shoemake were white.
Assistant District Attorney Gray Burdick said McClendon never mentioned AIDS as police questioned him after the killings.
``The only person who has introduced AIDS into this courtroom is the defense attorney,″ Burdick said.
But Parrish argued that Walters and Shoemake were ``trolling for sex″ and that even though Walters knew he might be HIV positive, ``he was going to do it anyway, the heck with who he infected.″
Gay rights groups decried Landrum’s ruling on the admissibility of the AIDS tests.
``Basically he has declared open season on people with HIV and other disabilities that are stigmatized,″ said Widney Brown, program attorney for HIV related violence with the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project.
David Ingebretsen, who heads the Mississippi Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Landrum’s ruling ``sends the message it’s OK to kill gay men who (approach you) because you might be frightened of what happens to you.″