F A I R M O N T, W.Va., July 19, 2001 -- A teenager who prosecutors say killed agay black man in a rage when the victim threatened to reveal theirsexual relationship pleaded guilty today to first-degree murder.
David Allen Parker, 18, was sentenced to life in prison withmercy, which means he will be eligible for parole in 15 years.
Parker, of Grant Town, had been scheduled to stand trial nextweek in the death of Arthur "J.R." Warren, a 26-year-old neighborwho was beaten, stomped, kicked with steel-toed boots, then runover four times with a Camaro.
Warren died of massive injuries July 4, 2000, in a gravelpullout alongside a road in Grant Town.
In exchange for Parker's plea, a second count of conspiracy tocommit a felony was dismissed. That count carried a possiblesentence of five years in prison.
Mercy for Testimony
Parker agreed to testify against Jared Wilson, whose trial isscheduled for Aug. 27 in Wheeling.
Parker and Wilson, both 17 at the time, were arrested the day ofWarren's murder.
If convicted, Wilson, of Mannington, faces life in prisonwithout parole.
Jason Shoemaker, Parker's 15-year-old cousin and a witness tothe beating, reported the episode to his mother, who called police.Shoemaker was prosecuted as a juvenile for helping the older teensdispose of evidence after the murder.
Parker had been drinking beer, huffing gasoline and snortingtranquilizers the night of July 3-4. He was angry with Warren, whohad apparently told others about their sexual relationship.
When Warren came to the vacant house that Parker and Wilson werepainting, the boys took $20 from him, then began arguing over thesexual gossip.
In a statement to police, Wilson blamed Parker for initiatingthe attack and said he, too, would have been beaten if he hadn'ttaken part.
‘I Take Full Responsibility’
During the investigation, Parker told a psychologist that Warrenhad sexually abused him since he was 12. Parker said Warren gavehim drugs and alcohol before most of the 30 encounters they had.
Court documents also indicate that Parker says Shoemaker eggedhim on about confronting Warren.
However, in a report for the court, Dr. William Fremouwconcluded Parker knew what he was doing and was capable of standingtrial. The teen's intoxication didn't stop him from trying todisguise 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 Godcomforts you and your loss and eases the pain. I don't know whatelse to say, but I'm sorry," Parker said.
To Marion County Circuit Judge David Janes, he said, "I takefull responsibility for my actions. I do not try to blame anyone oranything else for what I have done. The amount of time I get wouldnever replace the loss, but hopefully it will ease the loss I havecaused his family."
A Family's Torment
Before Parker was sentenced, J.R. Warren's mother, BrendaWarren, read a letter from the victim's brother and poems writtenby his sister.
She told Parker she is tormented by thoughts of her son'ssuffering and not knowing how long he lay alongside the road beforehe died.
"Not only has David Parker taken the life of our son … notonly did he kill him in such a vicious manner, but he went on totry to slander his name."
She said her son had a heart of gold and would do anything foranybody. He was trusting and unafraid of people, even when heshould have been afraid, she said.
"We tried to raise him to love everyone, to give everyone achance, but sometimes I feel as his mother I must have failed him.He didn't believe David would hurt him and that was a bigmistake."
Special Prosecutor Stephen Kenney said, "The heinous nature ofthis crime, the cruelty that was involved, the violence that wasinflicted on J.R. Warren, is all something the passage of time willnever take away."
He said the Warren family will never be able to forget themurder because they drive every day by the places where he wasbeaten and run over.
Kenney said a life sentence is justified. "No other sentencewould 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 monstrousacts, maybe he can be rehabilitated," Kenney said.
Victim Demonization Avoided
The plea bargain spares the Warren family what promised to be agrueling trial.
Defense lawyer Stephen Fitz likely would have argued thatParker'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 thisincident. J.R. Warren is just as much a victim of my client'shistory as my client is."
David Smith of the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaignworried earlier this week that Fitz would "demonize" Warren inthe trial.
"We have seen this sort of trial strategy used by otherdefendants in other cases in other parts of the country," he said."It in essence tries to justify murder, and it preys on the worstaspects of gay prejudice. It says that being approached by ahomosexual person is so horrible, so egregious, that of course youwould respond this way.
"None of these things have anything to do with the cold-bloodedmurder of J.R. Warren, whether they're true or not," he said.
Jeff Montgomery, executive director of the Detroit-basedTriangle Foundation, said Parker's defense team had no other optiononce he admitted beating Warren.
Simply arguing that his judgment was impaired by drugs andalcohol wouldn't have been enough to win over a jury, he said.
"We can't forget there was a very, very concerted effort tocover this murder up and deflect attention from it," saidMontgomery, who also is a board member of the National Coalition ofAnti-Violence Programs.
By pairing the substance abuse with allegations that Warren wasa sexual predator, Fitz could have created "a very potentdefense," Montgomery said.