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The LGBT Hate Crimes Project: Steve Domer

This entry is part 41 of 53 in the series lgbt hate crimes project

I’ve written this before, but one of the most striking things I’ve found about researching cases for the LGBT Hate Crimes Project is how little information is often available about the victim. In some cases, where the victim or victims survived an assault or attempted murder, they may speak for themselves, unless they are minors or afraid of reprisals if they speak out. (Some victims are targeted because they are marginalized and less likely to speak out and report a crime against them.) In some cases — where the victim has been killed and was also a member of a marginalized group — the victim almost disappears, except for a fleeting sentence here or there in one news article or another, hinting at the life that existed before the crime that snuffed it out.

Sometimes I’ll come across an article focusing on family and friends remembering the victim, and may be able to glean a little more information. But just as often, those friends and family may not have known — may have guessed or inferred, or may have assumed since they were not told — that their loved-one or their friend was gay. Co-workers who have worked beside the victim for years, friends and family who have known the victim even longer, may simply not have known who their friend and love-one really was. That is, until they become the victim of a hate crime.

It’s a phenomenon that came up in the case of Satendar Singh’s murder, which I spent some time updating this weekend. It was apparently typical that the friends of Singh who testified in his case assumed he was gay, but couldn’t not say whether they knew for sure.

Romil Sharma, who was at the park with Singh that day, said in court Tuesday that he hadn’t met Singh before but said his personality reminded him of their native Fiji.

“He was open, he was funny,” Sharma said.

When the prosecutor asked Sharma if he thought Singh was gay, Sharma replied that he didn’t ask, but “probably, I would say, ‘yes.’ “

Part of the reason may be cultural. As recently as 2005, an Australian man and a Fijian native were jailed for having gay sex, during a vacation on the island. They were sentenced to two years in jail, because homosexual activity is illegal in Fiji, or was at the time, and punishable by up to 14 years at hard labor. They were released after four months, but not before an international outcry arose. This was just five years after Satendar Singh came to the U.S., and two years before he was killed. He most likely knew the potential consequences for being openly gay in Fijian culture. Perhaps even among Fijians in the U.S.

Speaking of cultural influences, it probably also had an effect on the Slavic men assaulted Singh and were believed responsible for his death. Take this video I posted earlier, of American evangelical minister Scott Lively, speaking to a Russian congregation about Singh’s death and the related criminal trial.

Leaving out the blatant errors and falsehoods (nothing I’ve read in my research says that anyone took their pants off, though the judge did say that some members of Singh’s group could have been arrested for disorderly conduct), not the audiences immediate response when Lively tells them that Signh was punched: applause. Note the translator’s immediate response and the audience’s immediate response to learning that Singh died: laughter and applause.

But you don’t have to be foreign to be affected. In some of the cases I’ve researched and written up, community and family member will not consider the possibility that their loved-one had kept an entire aspect of his life hidden from them, even when witnesses corroborate what’s often theorized by prosecuting attorneys, searching for a motive in the crimes they’re prosecuting.

Steven Domer’s case reminded me of all of this, in part — not so much because he was closeted, though living in Oklahoma City might require him to be low-key — because some of his friends when interviewed barely mentioned that Domer was gay, and expressed surprise that me was last seen in a neighborhood where a number of Oklahoma City’s gay bars were, saying, “That wasn’t his scene. It’s really not like him to be out there. He really didn’t believe in labels. He didn’t believe in labeling people, gay or straight.”

Whether he “believed in labeling people,” or not, it’s clear that Steve Domer was labeled by them men who killed him — men who were looking to kill an “enemy” of their race; an African American, a Jew, or a homosexual — and it’s clear that in the aftermath of the case, the killer because the focus of the story, while the victim all but faded away.

Steve Domer, A gay may from Edmonton, OK, was murdered by Darrell Madden, after meeting him and Bradley Qualls in a gay Oklahoma City neighborhood.

The Background

steve_domer.jpg Domer had been living with his brother, Mort Domer, at his home in Edmonton.1) Described by his relatives as “very, very quiet,” Domer was known to visit visit Tramps — a local gay bar — on occasion, and have a few drinks.2)

Madden, 37, and Qualls, 26, were both members of the United Aryan Brotherhood, an organization that many of its members in prison. Both were recently released convicts. Madden served time for buying used police car, using it to impersonate an office, selling it online and failing to deliver it to the buyer. Qualls was incarcerated on a burglary conviction.3)

The Murder

Domer was last seen on October 25, in a gay neighborhood, at NW 39th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Oklahoma City.4) A witness said he and Domer approached two men in an area with several gay bars. The witness was uncomfortable with the situation and had Domer drive him home, but he believed Domer returned to meet the men later.5)

A witness identified the two men Domer was seen with as as Darrell Madden, 37, and Bradley Qualls, 26.6)

Video surveillance footage placed two men resembling Madden and Qualls talking to Domer on October 26, near a car wash on NW 39th and Barnes in Oklahoma City. On November 3, Qualls mother, Tina Melton told police that her son had mentioned “we killed someone.” Melton said that she received an email from Qualls later asking her to forget what he had said.7)

The Discovery

Mort Domer discovered his brother was missing when Steve Domer’s workplace called his home to tell him his brother was late for work.8)

On October 30, Domer’s burned car was found. Domer’s body was found by a hunter at about 5:00 p.m.9) in a ravine in McClain County10) on November 4. His body was bound with duct tape, and a wire hanger was around his neck.11) The medical examiner determined that Domer died as a result of asphyxiation, but did not say what was used to cause him to stop breathing.12)

The Motive

Madden’s MySpace page was deleted after Domer’s body was found. It had contained numerous photos of him with several other young men with bald heads swastika tattoos, whom he referred to as his Aryan brothers.13) The page listed Adolph Hitler as a personal hero, and interests included “securing the white race.”14) Two days after Domer’s disappearance, Madden wrote in a blog, “Well if you only (k)new the things we have done these past few days it would blow your … mind!!!.”15) in the previous few days and “it might well be the juice in the needle that kills me. Know what I said?”16)

On November 6, police searched Madden’s home in connection with Domer’s muder. They confiscated a computer, disks, a spiral notebook labeled as “Hitler letter,”17), duct tape, and burnt wires.18)

Police said that Madden and Qualls were both involved in Domer’s murder, and an affidavit later filed by the prosecutor in the Domer case said that the murder was part of Qualls initiation into the United Aryan Brotherhood.19) Prosecutors believe that the murder was an effort by Madden to receive his “patch.” A “patch” is believed to be a special ritual in the Aryan Brotherhood in which a member is raised to a special status by committing a violent act against an African American, Jew, homosexual or any person deemed an “enemy” by the group.20)

Investigators also claimed that Madden is bisexual.21) Unnamed sources also told the gay news site HNOKC.Com that Madden may have at one time identified himself as gay.22)

A woman who identified herself as Qualls’ sister called a local newspaper denying that her brother was affiliated with a skinhead group.23)

The Aftermath

On November 7, after Domers’ body was found, Madden was reported to have shot and killed Qualls in an apartment in Ardmore, OK. Investigators believed that Madden shot Qualls because he had witness Domers’ murder. A woman told authorities that both men were at her apartment before the shooting happened. The witness suggested that Qualls may have been under the influence of drugs, and that he and Madden were arguing. The argument continued as they left her apartment, and minutes later Qualls was shot.

Police arrived at 5:30 p.m. and found Qualls dead from multiple gunshot wounds.24)

Madden ran from the police when they arrived on the scene, and tried to carjack motorists at a nearby skating rink. Madden was still in the skating rink parking lot when police arrived.25) Police shot and wounded Madden as he pointed a semi-automatic weapon at cars.26) Madden was taken to a hospital, underwent surgery.27) and was released into police custody.28)

On November 9, Madden was charged with first-degree murder and five counts of assault and batter in Qualls’ death, and for stealing a car at gunpoint in an attempt to avoid capture.29) He was also charged with assaulting an Oklahoma City police officer after throwing various items, including a bottle of urine, at officers guarding his hospital room on November 26.30)

Community Response

On December 4, about 50 Oklahoma City residents gathered for a candelight vigil to protest Domer’s death and show support for state and federal hate crimes legislation. Speakers spoke in support of the Matthew Sheppard Act, including Baptist Preacher Greg Young and Rev. Loyce Newton-Edwards, assistant pastor at the Church of the Open Arms, and Rep. Al McAffrey, who was drafting legislation that would include protections for gays.31)

Plea Bargain & Death Penalty

In late July 2008, Madden accepted a plea deal in Qualls’ murder. Madden was reported to have wept as he entered a guilty plea in Qualls’ murder and was formally sentenced to life in prison. He also pleaded guilty to three counts of shooting with and intent to kill and received three 10-year sentences, which the judge ordered to be served consecutively.32)

Madden was charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping in Domer’s abduction and death.33) On August 1, 2008, Oklahoma County district attorney David Prater said he would apply to have Madden executed if he is convicted of Domer’s murder.34) Prosecutors said they plan to seek the death penalty because they believe Domer was killed because of his sexual orientation. Madden was charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping in Domer’s death.35)

Court documents showed that Madden’s roomate told police he overheard Madden and another man talking about killing someone who “wouldn’t even fight back.” The prosecutor’s affadavit also said that a woman Madden had dated said she heard him and Qualls talking about killing man. Though police sadi that Domer’s muder was motivated by hatred of gays, the prosecutor said he could not charge Madden with a hate crime because Oklahoma’s law does not cover sexual orientation.36)

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