By RYAN J. FOLEY
IOWA CITY, Iowa – A 19-year-old man hit a college student in the head with a baseball bat last month during a fatal beating that has drawn nationwide attention from gay rights activists, police said Friday.
Gay rights groups have denounced the early Aug. 19 beating of Marcellus Andrews in Waterloo after witnesses were quoted in a local newspaper saying assailants had taunted him with anti-gay slurs. One witness, an acquaintance of Andrews, said she punched a girl after the name-calling did not stop, a fight broke out and Andrews was brutally beaten. The 19-year-old died days later in an Iowa City hospital.
Claims of a “gay bashing” in Iowa went viral even as the Waterloo Police Department said it was not treating the ongoing investigation as a hate crime and some of Andrews’ family and friends downplayed the idea and said he was not gay even if he sometimes acted feminine.
Officers on Thursday arrested Paris A. Anding of Waterloo, 19, and charged him with second-degree murder. Anding made his initial court appearance on Friday and was being held at the Black Hawk County Jail on $510,000 bond. A criminal complaint released Friday said officers learned during the investigation that Anding caused Andrews’ fatal injuries by hitting him with a bat, and that he admitted doing so during an interview.
A judge approved Anding’s application for a court-appointed attorney to represent him on Friday morning. The public defender’s office in Waterloo said it had not yet assigned a lawyer to represent him as of Friday afternoon.
Police spokesman Capt. Tim Pillack said investigators have found no indication of a hate crime but would not comment on whether they believe slurs were used. He said the fight started when two people other than Andrews got into an argument and escalated when friends of each got involved.
“We’re still interviewing people and looking at the possibility of other people being involved,” he said. “We’re still trying to put the pieces together. It took us a couple of weeks to make this arrest and we’re still working on the case.”
Black Hawk County Attorney Tom Ferguson said Friday he could not comment on specifics of the case. But he noted that charges of murder cannot be filed with a hate crime enhancement under Iowa law, which only allows charges of assault, arson, criminal mischief and trespassing to take on greater penalties if the motive is hate.
Ferguson cautioned against a rush to judgment, saying investigators are still gathering information and eventually the full scenario will become clear.
“I understand that certain things happen that people have strong reactions to, but I guess I would just hope that at some point in time we can have this discussion when all the facts are out there and known,” he said.
Andrews was just days away from starting at Hawkeye Community College to study interior design when he was beaten, and he was a leader of a drill team sponsored by Union Missionary Baptist Church. Drill team director Pat Bowers said Andrews taught youngsters to twirl flags and led the 20-person step line during performances at parades, at churches and elsewhere.
Bowers said too many people jumped to conclusions about a hate crime without knowing Andrews, who she said was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Andrews had given her a ride home only hours before the beating, and she said his death was like losing a child.
“He was just a very talented, exceptional young man,” she said. “I’m glad they found at least one of the suspects and I believe there may be more.”
Anding was also charged Friday with aggravated assault for an unrelated Aug. 10 incident in which he punched a man in the face while wearing a set of brass knuckles and assaulted him on the ground with another suspect. The victim in that case received a cut below his eye but did not seek medical attention, according to the complaint.
One Iowa, the state’s largest gay rights group, issued a statement calling Anding’s arrest a step toward bringing Andrews’ killer to justice.
“We are heartened by the thousands of people who came out to mourn the loss of this honorable young man and to condemn the anti-gay slurs that target real or perceived LGBT youth,” executive director Troy Price said in a statement. “It is clear that, as a community, we will not tolerate this kind of hurtful language and the violence that too-often comes with it. Iowa must do better.”