Waverly, Ohio--The trial of the second defendant in the 2004 murder of a deaf gay man has ended before it began.
Martin Baxter pleaded guilty on September 23 to aggravated murder, thus avoiding the death penalty. His trial was scheduled to begin on October 11.
Baxter, 29, will instead serve a life term in prison, eligible for parole in 20 years.
Baxter, Matthew Ferman, 23, and James Veachel Trent, 20, were arrested for the beating death of Daniel Fetty, 39, who was living in his car after a fire destroyed his apartment. Fetty worked at Emmitt House, a bar and restaurant in Waverly, saving money for a new apartment.
Police received a call after midnight on October 2, 2004, and found Fetty lying naked in a trash container. He had been beaten with bricks, bottles and boards.
Patrolman Tim South saw the trio run behind a nearby building, and they were all arrested within a few hours.
Fetty was flown to Grant Hospital in Columbus, and died about 12 hours after being found, battered and bloody.
Pike County Prosecutor Robert Junk actively sought the death penalty in the case, which he ordered to be investigated as a hate crime.
Baxter told police that he and Ferman had gone to the Canal Pub that Friday night in Waverly, about 50 miles south of Columbus. There, Ferman eventually got into an argument with Fetty, accusing him of stealing a pack of cigarettes he had left on a table with money tucked into the cellophane.
Once Fetty and the two men were outside, according to Baxter’s statement, Ferman started being more friendly to Fetty. Baxter said that Ferman started to sell Fetty some marijuana, then led him across the street to the parking lot behind a building where he hit Fetty over the head with a beer bottle.
Ferman’s story to police went on to say that Trent struck Fetty with a stick after he fell to the ground.
Trent pleaded no contest to reduced charges on December 9, 2004, and agreed to testify against Ferman and Baxter.
Trent told police that he was walking by when Baxter called to him, then showed him Fetty’s unconscious form in a trash container. Baxter then jumped up and down on Fetty while Ferman poked him with piece of wood.
Ferman’s trial is set to begin January 9, 2006. It is not yet known whether he will also plead guilty, or allow the trial to go forward.
Juanita Meek, Fetty’s mother, believes that Ferman will probably plead guilty. She expressed satisfaction with Baxter’s sentence, as well as Trent’s seven-year sentence, but noted that she would prefer it if they were given the death penalty.
Gloria McCauley, executive director of the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization, was in court with Meek for the hearing.
“While we’re relieved this sentence was relatively strong, with no possibility of parole for 20 years,” she said, “there’s no overall sense of relief because there’s still another trial coming up.”
“It’s more like there is another hurdle that has been passed,” she explained. “Any sense of, ‘Take a deep breath and get on with life,’ will have to wait until after the third defendant’s trial.”
McCauley, who knew Fetty, praised Junk’s efforts on behalf of the victim.
“Working with prosecutor Robert Junk, he has not dropped the ball at all,” she noted. “He is a pleasure to work with.”
She found it surprising, and gratifying, that Junk made the connection between Fetty’s murder and the possibility of a hate crime, especially given the severity of the beating and the fact that Fetty’s clothing had been removed.
“One of the things that really frustrating about this case is that not a lot of people have been paying attention to it,” she seethed. “Daniel was not a poster boy.”
She pointed to the 1998 Matthew Shepard case, in which an attractive, young, middle-class college student was beaten into a coma and left tied to a fence in Wyoming, dying days later in the hospital.
McCauley opined that because Fetty was not young and not pretty, his murder won’t become the rallying cry that Shepard’s has.
December 17, 2004: Pair may get death in gay man’s murder
October 15, 2004: Two charged with murder in man’s beating death
October 8, 2004: Ohio man is beaten to death in a suspected hate crime
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