Billy 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 didn’t deny being gay. But he also didn’t 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 didn’t try to push himself on anyone. “He was a good person. He didn’t 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 bar’s 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,” Sheriff’s 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 Gaither’s 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.
Billy Jack Gaither
1959 - February 19, 1999
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Billy Jack Gaither