Suspects in possible hate crime indicted

From NewsWest 9
From NewsWest 9

Unfortunately I didn’t catch this before we went to press yesterday, so I wasn’t able to include it in this story, but it looks as though the two suspects in a possible recent anti-gay hate crime in far west Texas have been indicted. NewsWest 9 reports that Daniel Martinez, 46, and Kristopher Buchanan, 27, were indicted by a grand jury Wednesday on charges of aggravated sexual assault, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery and arson. Three of these four charges are first-degree felonies, meaning there is no penalty enhancement available under Texas’ hate crimes statute, so it’s unlikely that the district attorney would prosecute the case as a hate crime. However, as I reported here, the FBI plans to investigate the case and could file its own federal hate crimes charges under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. As you may have guessed, the Brewster County sheriff still hasn’t returned any of my phone calls about this case, and I have a Freedom of Information request pending with his office. I also plan to file a request with the local courts. Stay tuned.

—  John Wright

FBI monitoring possible Big Bend hate crime

Towleroad is reporting that a Marfa man is organizing a rally tonight in support of the 18-year-old victim of the possible recent anti-gay hate crime in Texas’ Big Bend area. The rally will be at 6 p.m. in front of the Marfa courthouse, according to an e-mail the Marfa man sent to Towleroad. Marfa is in the county immediately west of Brewster County, where the crime occurred. The man who’s organizing the rally, James, notes that one of the suspects is being held on only $35,000 bond, meaning he’ll be released if he can post $3,500.

Meanwhile, despite four days worth of phone messages, I still haven’t heard back from Brewster County Sheriff Ronnie Dodson, whose office is investigating the case. I filed a request Friday under the Texas Open Records Act seeking documents related to the case. Dodson has 10 days to respond to my request. Also Friday, I left messages with the FBI to find out whether they’re aware of the crime, and it turns out they are. Remember, the hate crimes law passed in October allows the federal government to intervene in cases of anti-gay hate crimes. I received a return message this morning from Matthew Espenshade, supervising agent in the FBI’s Midland office. Here’s what Espenshade said:

“What I can say about it right now is that we are working with the Brewster County’s Sheriff’s Office, monitoring the situation, and determining whether there was any hate crime involved in the incident, if it would it would rise to that level. We’re now going to be making that determination along with the Department of Justice at some point here. We are aware of the situation and monitoring it and we’ll assist in any investigative measures that are appropriate.”

—  John Wright

Sheriff fails to return phone calls about possible hate crime in Big Bend area

Daniel Martinez
Daniel Martinez

There isn’t much new information today in the kidnapping and sexual assault of a teenager in the Big Bend area of Texas on Sunday. Based on information obtained by Dallas Voice over the last few days, the newspaper is classifying the incident as a possible anti-gay hate crime. My report from yesterday has been picked up by Queerty and Towleroad, two national LGBT blogs. On a side note, Queerty didn’t even credit Dallas Voice, as if they just stumbled on the monthly Big Bend Gazette by accident.

Anyhow, Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson has failed to return multiple phone messages left by Dallas Voice since the newspaper learned about the crime Wednesday morning. A woman who answered the phone on Thursday afternoon said the sheriff was out of the office and to try back Friday morning. The woman said there’s no other way of getting in touch with the sheriff, and that he’s the only one who can release information about the case.

I’m willing to give the sheriff a little time and the benefit of the doubt here, but let’s just hope he isn’t ignoring my phone calls because he’s trying to cover up a brutal hate crime for PR reasons. If you’d like to call the Brewster County Sheriff’s Department and express your concern about this case, the main number is 432-837-3488.

Both The Alpine Avalanche newspaper and Midland’s NewsWest 9 are reporting today that the victim is 18, not 19 as previously reported, and that he is a student. NewsWest 9 has also posted a photo of one of the suspects, Daniel Martinez (shown above). Martinez, who has a lengthy arrest record, is  charged with sexual assault. The other suspect, 27-year-old Kristopher Buchanan, is being held on an outstanding warrant but is also expected to face charges in Sunday’s attack.

I’ve been unable to confirm rumors that the sexual assault involved the victim being sodomized with a tire iron. According to media reports, the victim met the two suspects at the Boathouse bar in Terlingua Ghost Town, near the Texas-Mexico border and the Big Bend National Forest. The suspects reportedly hit the teen over the back of the head and kidnapped him. The suspects drove the victim in his own car to a remote location in south Brewster County, before sexually assaulting him and burning the car. They then took him to a private residence, where they again sexually assaulted him before he managed to escape.

The victim crossed 3 miles of harsh desert terrain on foot to a highway, where he was eventually found by a sheriff’s deputy at about 1 a.m. Monday. NewsWest 9 reports that the victim was bleeding and bruised, and that he was taken to Big Bend Regional Medical Center in Alpine, where it was confirmed that he’d been sexually assaulted. He was treated and released.

Again, there are more questions than answers about this case at this point, but I think the public has a right to know what’s going on, so I would urge the Brewster County Sheriff’s Office to come forward and provide more information as soon as possible. As Randall Terrell from Equality Texas noted yesterday, this all sounds eerily similar to the Matthew Shepard case. It also brings back memories of Brandon Teena, the transgender man whose murder was the subject of the film, “Boy’s Don’t Cry.”

Brewster County reportedly is the largest county in the U.S. in terms of land area, but it’s very sparsely populated. The area where the victim is kidnapped is primarily a tourist destination. John Waters, publisher of The Big Bend Gazette, told me yesterday that residences in the southern part of the county are typically miles apart and don’t even have addresses.

“It’s absolutely shocking,” Waters said of the crime. “I have never encountered a case as violent as this. In the seven years that I’ve been here and doing this, we have had one murder and prior to that one murder, no one could really remember when the last murder was.”

Waters said there are LGBT people in Brewster County, some out and some closeted. But he said he doesn’t think Big Bend is a hostile place for them.

“If you can survive in the desert and figure out how to make a living and figure out how to deal with 115 degree temperatures, nobody cares about the rest,” Waters said.

—  John Wright

19-year-old kidnapped, sexually assaulted in possible hate crime in Texas' Big Bend area

A 19-year-old West Texas man was kidnapped and repeatedly sexually assaulted on Sunday in a possible hate crime that’s being compared to the 1998 murder of gay Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard.

The Big Bend Gazette, a monthly newspaper in Alpine, reports on its Web site that the victim was kidnapped by two men outside a bar in Terlingua, near the Texas-Mexico border and Big Bend National Park.

The victim was driven in his own vehicle to a remote location in south Brewster County, where the suspects sexually assaulted him and set his car on fire, according to The Big Bend Gazette. The victim was then taken to a private residence in the same area, where he was again sexually assaulted. The victim managed to escape from the home and ran 3 miles across the desert to a highway, where he was eventually found by a sheriff’s deputy at 1 a.m. Monday.

The victim is recovering, and the two suspects have been arrested, according to The Big Bend Gazette. Daniel Martinez, 46, is charged with sexual assault. Kristopher Buchanan, 27, is being held on outstanding warrants from other counties. Additional charges against both suspects are pending.

Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson didn’t return phone messages left by Dallas Voice on Wednesday.

John Waters, publisher of the Big Bend Gazette, said Wednesday that it’s unclear whether the attack was an anti-gay hate crime. But he said he contacted Equality Texas on Tuesday to get more information about anti-gay hate crimes in the wake of the incident.

Equality Texas political director Randall Terrell, who spoke with Waters, told Dallas Voice on Wednesday that although many of the facts aren’t yet known, “It sounds like Matthew Shepard all over again.”

Stay tuned to Instant Tea for updates on the case.

—  John Wright