One year after his murder, Jodie Henderson's family calling for hate crime law in Indiana

Jodie Henderson, 27, was a gay veteran. He was killed Jan. 16, 2016. // Photo provided

One year after the death of Jodie Henderson, his mother is calling on Indiana lawmakers for change. The 27-year-old gay veteran was beaten to death in South Bend on Jan. 16, 2016. Charging documents say the man accused of killing him, Jabreeh Davis-Martin, bragged about killing Henderson for, "making a gay move."

New Indiana House of Representatives and Senate bills are on the table this session that would put stricter punishments in place for offenses deemed a hate crime.

"I will fight to the end for my son he will never be forgotten," said Henderson's mom, Patricia Forrest.

Forrest said her son was murdered because of his sexual orientation. She said she's been staying in New York state for about a month, saying she doesn't feel safe anymore in Indiana.

"If I could pick this trial up and take it somewhere else so he can be charged I would love to do that," she said.

Henderson's sister, Lucille Henderson-Benton, said she thinks Davis-Martin should face extra punishment for what he did, especially after allegedly bragging about the murder.

"I feel that he should be sentenced to death, and if he's not sentenced to death, I think he should spend his natural life behind bars," she said. “You did this because of someone’s belief, religion, sexual preference, disability, whatever the case may be: you did this knowingly because of the hate."

Henderson-Benton pointed out that Davis-Martin has a background of violent criminal activity. Court records show he was found not guilty by a jury of battery against a public safety officer. His record also shows a list of criminal charges going back to 2013.

“That boy should have been in prison a long time ago," said Henderson-Benton.

She said she believes crime rates will go down if people know hateful behavior isn't tolerated.

Over the phone, Henderson's dad, Jodie Henderson Sr. disagreed. He said he is praying for Davis-Martin, and thinks he can change his life around. He too, said he hopes Indiana passes a hate crime law.

Lawmakers, like Sen. Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis), have been pushing for hate crime legislation for a long time. He said he's tried five times. Taylor's proposing two bills this session: Senate Bill 333 and 336. Those are just a couple of the proposed bills at the statehouse pertaining to hate crimes.

"I don't plan on going anywhere soon, and if the good Lord allows me to live here I'm going to continue to push this issue," said Taylor, via phone on Tuesday.

He said he thinks it's possible that part of a hate crime law will pass but not all of it. Taylor said if his bills don't pass he'll try again next year.

“Somebody’s going to have to convince me it’s not the right thing to do for society and to protect people."

Opponents of hate crime legislation in Indiana, like Sen. Jim Merritt (R-Indianapolis), argue there are existing codes that already protect everyone. Taylor said that's true, but argues judges never use those codes.

Taylor said SB 336 specifically adds "aggravating circumstances" to Indiana law that a judge can consider when sentencing a bias motivated crime. Those aggravating circumstances are specifically stated here.

He said SB 333 makes sure minimum sentencing for a hate crime would be three years versus zero, the current minimum. The full bill can be read here.

South Bend's LGBTQ Center is also being persistent in the fight for a hate crime law.

Eli Williams is the executive director.

"We don't feel that justice has been served," she said.

Williams said it's frustrating for the LGBTQ community to see the trial taking so long. It was postponed in the early fall of 2016.

“To me it feels frustrating as someone who’s outside that system, we’re demanding justice," Williams said.

Henderson's sister agrees.

“After one whole year this man, his court date been pushed back all these times, and it’s just not right. That’s making the family have to go through this all over again," she said.

Williams said she feels it's her organization's duty to remind people of Jodie Henderson's death anniversary and legacy. Outside the center on Mishawaka Avenue they keep a flag in the window reading #JusticeForJodie, a visual reminder for their goal to not only put someone behind bars, but protect others in the future.

"Hate crime legislation can protect a white, Christian, straight, man, if he was discriminated against for some reason. This legislation would protect him too," said Williams.

It's a misconception she hopes The LGBTQ Center can clear up at their hate crime law "teach-in" happening Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. at their building.

“At this point in this political climate, we have to realize that an issue that concerns one of us concerns us all, so we need to stick together," Williams said.

Williams said her group will keep the conversation alive until a law is passed. It's something Henderson's family is doing too.

"I just want them to recognize he wasn't an ordinary person, he was a soldier," said Forrest, Henderson's mother.

Forrest and her daughter said they thank Tim Corbett with St. Joseph County MHU for his work on the case, and the South Bend Police Department.

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