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Gag order issued in W.Va. killing

Thursday, July 13, 2000

By Dennis B. Roddy, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

FAIRMONT, W.Va. -- Prosecutors ended a four-hour hearing into the beating death of an openly gay black man by refusing to acknowledge the case even exists, and one lawyer said the judge presiding has issued a sweeping gag order on everyone involved.

"What hearing? I don't know what you're talking about," said Judge Rodney B. Merrifield, as he took off the robes he wore in a locked courtroom where authorities had just discussed a murder case against two 17-year-olds accused of beating to death Arthur C. "JR" Warren Jr.

Merrifield repeatedly cited West Virginia law that he says forbids any discussion of cases involving juveniles, but it was later learned he found probable cause to hold the two on the charges.

Prosecutors have until the end of the month to ask to have the case moved to adult court or it will proceed in juvenile court.

During the hearing, prosecutors indicated they are not pursuing the case as a hate crime. The motive for the attack still has not been revealed.

Marion County Prosecuting Attorney G. Richard Bunner said the judge's gag order prevented him from disclosing anything about the case.

"I can't even say there's a hearing," Bunner said.

Two ministers who have represented Warren's family were in the courtroom.

The defendants, David Allen Parker, 17, of Grant Town, and Jared M. Wilson, 17, of Fairview, were escorted into Merrifield's courtroom in handcuffs, coats drawn over their heads. Because the boys are minors, Merrifield ordered the courtroom doors shut and news media out of the building as Parker and Wilson were moved in and out.

A friend of the Warren family accused Marion County officials of trying to suppress information about the case.

"I believe there's a coverup," said Deborah Dooley of Fairmont. "They basically don't want this to be noted as a hate crime."

But a relative of both boys, Charles Robert Parker, of Midvale, Ohio, said he believed "justice will be done."

Charles Parker said the defendants are cousins and he met briefly with David Parker's father, William, during a break in a hearing.

"Bill's only seen him once and he said David wouldn't talk," Charles Parker said.

Both William Parker and his former wife Katharine, David's mother, attended the hearing. Also there were the parents of Arthur C. "JR" Warren Jr., the 26-year-old man the pair are accused of killing in the early hours of July 4. Police say the boys admitted beating Warren to death at a home owned by the Parkers in nearby Grant Town, then bundling his body into a car, dropping it on the roadway on the edge of town and running over it several times to make Warren's death appear to be a hit and run.

A third boy, identified as 15-year-old Jason Shoemaker from Grant Town, was present and helped the pair clean up blood inside the house at 101 View Drive. He later informed his parents, who called police, and is expected to be a witness against Parker and Wilson.

Midway through the hearing, Shoemaker was escorted into the hearing by a lawyer from Morgantown who refused to speak with reporters. The boy has not been charged.

While not identifying the suspects, Marion County Sheriff Ron Watkins, said the teen-agers gave statements explaining what led up to Warren's beating, but Watkins declined to say why the two, who knew Warren, would have killed him.

The killing has put Grant Town, population 700, and surrounding Marion County into the heart of a national debate over hate crimes. But while a team of investigators for the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights organization, have suggested race and sexual orientation were likely motivators in the beating, investigators have said that, so far, they have found nothing to establish a violation of West Virginia's hate crimes statute. That statute, however, does not cover crimes in which sexual orientation is a motive.

David Smith, an investigator for the campaign, met with Warren's parents this week.

"I have a feeling that they feel racism played a bigger role in it than homophobia did," Smith said.

Warren was an unemployed man with a learning disability who was known for walking the streets of Grant Town at all hours looking for someone to talk to. The suspects' acquaintance with the man caused Charles Parker to doubt the hate crime angle.

Whatever reason for the beating the boys gave authorities yesterday, it stayed behind closed doors, guarded by sheriff's deputies.

"That's what I want to know," Charles Parker said, "because supposedly they were friends with JR."

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