A teenager who prosecutors say killed a gay black man in a rage when the victim threatened to reveal their sexual relationship pleaded guilty today to first-degree murder.
David Allen Parker, 18, was sentenced to life in prison with mercy, which means he will be eligible for parole in 15 years.
Parker, of Grant Town, had been scheduled to stand trial next week in the death of Arthur "J.R." Warren, a 26-year-old neighbor who was beaten, stomped, kicked with steel-toed boots, then run over four times with a Camaro.
Warren died of massive injuries July 4, 2000, in a gravel pullout alongside a road in Grant Town.
In exchange for Parker's plea, a second count of conspiracy to commit a felony was dismissed. That count carried a possible sentence of five years in prison.
Mercy for Testimony
Parker agreed to testify against Jared Wilson, whose trial is scheduled for Aug. 27 in Wheeling.
Parker and Wilson, both 17 at the time, were arrested the day of Warren's murder.
If convicted, Wilson, of Mannington, faces life in prison without parole.
Jason Shoemaker, Parker's 15-year-old cousin and a witness to the beating, reported the episode to his mother, who called police. Shoemaker was prosecuted as a juvenile for helping the older teens dispose of evidence after the murder.
Parker had been drinking beer, huffing gasoline and snorting tranquilizers the night of July 3-4. He was angry with Warren, who had apparently told others about their sexual relationship.
When Warren came to the vacant house that Parker and Wilson were painting, the boys took $20 from him, then began arguing over the sexual gossip.
In a statement to police, Wilson blamed Parker for initiating the attack and said he, too, would have been beaten if he hadn't taken part.
‘I Take Full Responsibility’
During the investigation, Parker told a psychologist that Warren had sexually abused him since he was 12. Parker said Warren gave him drugs and alcohol before most of the 30 encounters they had.
Court documents also indicate that Parker says Shoemaker egged him on about confronting Warren.
However, in a report for the court, Dr. William Fremouw concluded Parker knew what he was doing and was capable of standing trial. The teen's intoxication didn't stop him from trying to disguise the beating as a hit-and-run, he said.
At today's hearing, Parker apologized to the Warren family.
"If by any means I could change it, I would. I hope God comforts you and your loss and eases the pain. I don't know what else to say, but I'm sorry," Parker said.
To Marion County Circuit Judge David Janes, he said, "I take full responsibility for my actions. I do not try to blame anyone or anything else for what I have done. The amount of time I get would never replace the loss, but hopefully it will ease the loss I have caused his family."
A Family's Torment
Before Parker was sentenced, J.R. Warren's mother, Brenda Warren, read a letter from the victim's brother and poems written by his sister.
She told Parker she is tormented by thoughts of her son's suffering and not knowing how long he lay alongside the road before he died.
"Not only has David Parker taken the life of our son … not only did he kill him in such a vicious manner, but he went on to try to slander his name."
She said her son had a heart of gold and would do anything for anybody. He was trusting and unafraid of people, even when he should have been afraid, she said.
"We tried to raise him to love everyone, to give everyone a chance, but sometimes I feel as his mother I must have failed him. He didn't believe David would hurt him and that was a big mistake."
Special Prosecutor Stephen Kenney said, "The heinous nature of this crime, the cruelty that was involved, the violence that was inflicted on J.R. Warren, is all something the passage of time will never take away."
He said the Warren family will never be able to forget the murder because they drive every day by the places where he was beaten and run over.
Kenney said a life sentence is justified. "No other sentence would be appropriate and just."
"There is an element of mercy and that's because he's young; maybe he can change. Maybe he can take hold of these monstrous acts, maybe he can be rehabilitated," Kenney said.
Victim Demonization Avoided
The plea bargain spares the Warren family what promised to be a grueling trial.
Defense lawyer Stephen Fitz likely would have argued that Parker's relationship with Warren, combined with a rough childhood, led to a long-simmering rage that finally exploded.
"This young man is messed up," Fitz has said of his client. "He's scared, and he's confused, and it's not just all about this incident. J.R. Warren is just as much a victim of my client's history as my client is."
David Smith of the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign worried earlier this week that Fitz would "demonize" Warren in the trial.
"We have seen this sort of trial strategy used by other defendants in other cases in other parts of the country," he said. "It in essence tries to justify murder, and it preys on the worst aspects of gay prejudice. It says that being approached by a homosexual person is so horrible, so egregious, that of course you would respond this way.
"None of these things have anything to do with the cold-blooded murder of J.R. Warren, whether they're true or not," he said.
Jeff Montgomery, executive director of the Detroit-based Triangle Foundation, said Parker's defense team had no other option once he admitted beating Warren.
Simply arguing that his judgment was impaired by drugs and alcohol wouldn't have been enough to win over a jury, he said.
"We can't forget there was a very, very concerted effort to cover this murder up and deflect attention from it," said Montgomery, who also is a board member of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.
By pairing the substance abuse with allegations that Warren was a sexual predator, Fitz could have created "a very potent defense," Montgomery said.