On a dirt road that leads to Wahneta,
Florida a driver made the ghastly discovery of a bloody body stabbed
to death sitting on the side of the road. The date was Wednesday,
March 14, 2007 at about 1:20AM.
That dead man was Ryan Keith Skipper,
25, a gay man. The trials of his accused murderers – William David
Brown Jr., 22, and Joseph Bearden, 23 – begin today, after several
delays, as lawyers begin selecting a jury in a Polk County courtroom,
reports The Ledger.
The pair were arrested soon after
Skipper's body was found and have remained in custody over the past
Details of what happened between the
three men remain sketchy. Family and friends hope the trial will
shed light on Skipper's final hours.
Police originally told the media that
Skipper met Bearden, who was hitchhiking, while driving looking to
pick up someone. The pair returned to Skipper's home where they
smoked marijuana, and decided to use his notebook computer to commit
check fraud. The two drove to a home owned by Brown's uncle where
they met up with Brown.
Witnesses at the home said the three
men left, but only Bearden and Brown returned 15 minutes later, their
clothing stained with blood.
Skipper's car was found three days
later at a nearby dock. The car was soiled with blood and,
investigators said, Bearden and Brown had unsuccessfully tried to set
the month-old, powder blue Chevrolet Aveo on fire. Detectives say
they recovered fingerprints of both suspects from the car.
Close friends have disputed many of the
details laid out by the police department, including the suggestions
that Skipper picked up Bearden for sex and that the pair smoked
Skipper was beaten and stabbed 20 times,
and his throat slit. A Polk County autopsy concluded he died from
the stabbing. Detectives say a witness has stated that Skipper was
killed because he was making sexual advances towards one of the men.
After their son's death, Skipper's
parents turned to gay activism, participating in several gay pride
parades and becoming active members of gay rights organizations.
Gay groups have decried statements made
by the police as character assassinations. “They've characterized
Ryan as a pervert, a drug addict and a felon,” Brian Winfield, a
spokesman for Equality Florida, a gay rights group, said.
The two men will be tried separately on
charges of robbery and first-degree murder.