Jack Gaither, a thirty-nine year old gay man, was viciously beaten to death
and his body mutilated and burned on February 19, 1999. Billy Jack worked at
the Russell Athletics apparel company near Sylacauga, Alabama as a computer
operator. One of several siblings, he lived at home because he had promised
his parents he would take care of them. His father, Marion Gaither, had suffered
a heart attack and has numerous medical problems including trouble with his
breathing. He said his son never missed a day of work except to care for him.
He told reporters, If my son was gay he sure kept it secret." Friends
claimed that Billy Jack didnt deny being gay. But he also didnt
make it an issue in his hometown of Sylacauga, a small textile mill town about
sixty miles from Birmingham. Donna McKee, a waitress and bartender at a bar
called The Tavern that Gaither frequented on weekends, said Gaither was a gentle
caring man who didnt try to push himself on anyone. He was a good
person. He didnt deserve this, she said.
Steven Mullins, 25, also frequented The Tavern where with his shaved head, racist
T-shirts and combat boots, he was known as a skinhead wannabe who
acted like a tough guy but would back down quickly if challenged. The bars
owner, Marian Hammond, said Mullins once caused a scene at the bar by calling
racial epithets when blacks entered. Another time, wearing a Ku Klux Klan T-shirt,
Mullins went to a nearby restaurant where blacks were eating and pressed his
back against the window so diners could see the racist insignia.
Sometime in the weeks prior to February 19 Billy Jack Gaither and Steven Mullins
had some sort of contact at The Tavern, the incident was later used by Mullins
to claim that Billy Jack had propositioned him. On February 19 Mullins called
Gaither to get together in Sylacauga. That night Gaither picked up Mullins in
his car and they drove to a bar called The Frame, where Mullins found Charles
Monroe Butler, Jr., 21, playing pool and asked him to take a ride into the woods
with them. Until then, Butler had never met Gaither. The three drove to a remote
area where Mullins and Butler beat up Billy Jack, stuffed him into the trunk
of his car and went for supplies. They got the kerosene, they got matches,
they got tires from the back of the [Mullins] residence, and they got the ax
handle, Sheriffs Investigator Kelley Johnson said. From there they
went to the banks of Peckerwood Creek in neighboring Coosa County, an area with
a landing on the creek, now used as a dump. They doused the tires with kerosene
and set them ablaze. Then they pulled Billy Jack out of the trunk of his car.
When he got out of the car he tried to stand up and they attacked him again,
bludgeoning him on the head and body with the ax handle. His throat was cut
and his body was thrown onto the pile of burning tires.
The charred ax handle was later found in the remains of the fire. The two suspects
retrieved one of their cars and took Gaithers vehicle to another rural
spot on a dirt road, where they set it on fire. The burned-out vehicle was found
the next day by a passerby.
After spending a night in jail for an unrelated incident Butler came forward
first, saying that God had told him to confess. According to Sheriff's Deputy
Al Bradley and Investigator Johnson, the two suspects provided harrowing details
of the killing and seemed relieved to be telling the story, but they showed
no remorse. Mullins and Butler both claimed that Gaither had been coming
on to them for about two weeks prior to the slaying and that they had
killed him to put a stop to it. In June of 1999, Steven Mullins pled guilty
to capital murder; Charles M. Butler, Jr. stood trial and was found guilty of
the same charge by a jury. In August of 1999, both Mullins and Butler were sentenced
to life in prison without parole.
1959 - February 19, 1999
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