On February 19, 1999, Billy Jack Gaither, a thirty-nine-year-old gay man who worked at the Russell Athletics apparel company near Sylacauga, Alabama, was brutally beaten to death. His throat was cut, and his body was bludgeoned with an ax handle before being thrown on top of a pile of tires and set on fire. In the weeks following the killing, two men came forward to police as the killers: Steven Mullins and Charles Monroe Butler. Butler, the younger of the two, came forward to police first. He described the night of the murder in great detail: how he had never heard of Billy Jack Gaither prior to the night of the killing; how his friend Steve Mullins found him at a bar playing pool and asked him to take a ride into the woods with himself and Billy Jack; how Billy Jack started "talking queer stuff" that set off a violent reaction in Butler; and then how he stood by as Mullins beat Billy Jack to death. In June of 1999, Steven Mullins pled guilty to capital murder; Butler 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.
This is FRONTLINE's interview with him. Of Billy Jack's four brothers, Ricky
was the only one to go on camera with FRONTLINE to talk about growing up as a
man in the Gaither family. Ricky paints a portrait of his younger brother's
early denials of his sexuality, his devotion to his parents, and his
discretion about his romantic life. Ricky also offers his own reading of the
evidence against his brother's killers, Mullins and Butler.
This is FRONTLINE's interview with her. One of Billy Jack's two sisters, Kathy
Gaither may have been closer to Billy than anyone because of the bond they
shared as gay members of the family. Among other things, Kathy counseled Billy
on how to weigh his personal sexual feelings with his father's views on
homosexuality from the Bible. Kathy is adamant that the truth of why Mullins
and Butler killed her brother has not yet come out.
This is FRONTLINE's interview with Hammond. The owner of The Tavern, the most
popular hangout in Sylacauga, Alabama, Marion Hammond had been friends with
Billy Jack Gaither for twenty years. He was the first gay person she ever
knew. Marion was familiar with Billy Jack's killer, Steve Mullins.
This is Mullins' initial police confession from March of 1999. A former
Skinhead who worked hard at appearing tough and sinister, Steve Mullins worked
construction jobs occasionally, but was often unemployed and frequently relied
on others to get by. On February 19, 1999, he says, he decided that Billy Jack
Gaither "didn't need to live any longer." That night, he slit Billy Jack's
throat, beat him to death, and set him on fire. "I had to 'cause he was a
faggot," says Mullins. At trial, however, a number of witnesses came forward
to allege that Steve Mullins himself had been involved in homosexual acts, and
may have had a relationship with Billy Jack. Compare contradictory statements
he made in later interviews and testimony.
This is FRONTLINE's interview with Butler. Sometimes described as Steven
Mullins' "sidekick," and always referred to as small and boyish, Charles Monroe
Butler was shooting pool with his daddy at a bar when Steven Mullins approached
him to take a ride into the Alabama woods. Did Butler know that the mission
that night was to kill the other passenger, Billy Jack Gaither? He says he
didn't know. Mullins says he did. Now, in prison, Butler says he is forced to
deal with "prison sexuality."
billy jack ·
homophobia's roots ·
a gay gene? ·
the bible's words ·
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