by Jane Futcher
San Francisco Chronicle Magazine
Sunday, Jan. 30, 2008
39-year-old Kevin Henry of Albion was beaten stabbed 17 times. Was it a hate crime?
It was close to sunset on Nov. 2, 2005, when two Ukiah men flying high on crystal meth drove a white Toyota pick-up to Lake Mendocino a few miles east of town. Trevor Conley, 23, had been tweaking for days when he met Nathan McWilliams, 22, a regular methamphetamine user who worked at a local hardware store.
The guys stopped at an overlook above the South Boat Ramp, a popular picnic area and gay-cruising spot with a spectacular view of the water and the mountains. They struck up a conversation with 39-year-old Kevin Henry, an amateur actor who was 6’1”, with blonde hair and a winsome smile. Henry had grown up in nearby Lake County and had recently moved from Seattle back to Albion, on the Mendocino coast with his long-time friend and roommate, Nancy Farris. That morning, he’d driven to Ukiah for two doctor’s appointments and had cashed his paycheck from the Albion Deli.
The three men snorted meth in Henry’s car, using rolled bills from their wallets as straws; when the younger men took off, Henry found McWilliams’ wallet in his car and his own wallet gone. Roaming Ukiah in search of the men, Henry reached Conley by telephone late that night, arranging to meet them at a local bar to exchange wallets. Afterwards, all three men drove up a mountain road outside of town, where one or both men knocked Henry unconscious; they stuck his body in the trunk of his car and drove it to another remote location to dispose of his body or finish him off.
In Redwood Valley, where they stopped, the trunk of the car popped open and Henry ran for his life, the two men right behind him.
“McWilliams stated that Mr. Conley had gone psycho on Mr. Henry,” a sheriff’s detective testified in court. “That Mr. Conley had cut Mr. Henry’s throat. And that Mr. Conley had begun to stomp on Mr. Henry’s face and head.”
Conley and McWilliams dragged Henry’s lifeless body into a ditch, covering it with a rug and some firewood. The next day, with Conley’s girlfriend along for the ride, they dumped Henry’s car down a steep ravine west of town.
Henry’s body was found nine days later. He had been stabbed and slashed 17 times; the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head and two stab wounds, one in the chest, one in the back.
“Of the 17 wounds, only two were lethal,” the medical examiner testified at the preliminary hearing. “Somebody was playing games with this man.”
Henry’s killers might never have been caught if McWilliams had not withdrawn $425 from a bank account registered to Nancy Farris, using an ATM card they’d taken from Henry. A week after Henry’s body and car had been found, a sheriff’s detective brought McWilliams in for questioning Nov. 18, aided by a tip from an informant and a video of McWilliams at the bank.
McWilliams offered detectives several versions of what happened that night, ultimately sticking with the story that Henry had offered them cocaine at the lake, which they’d accepted, and propositioned them, which they’d declined. When Conley’s girlfriend called, they left quickly, Conley telling McWilliams he wished he’d “jacked” Henry for his cocaine.
Unaware of McWilliams’ confession, Conley admitted only to having done drugs with Henry at the lake, meeting up with him later to retrieve McWilliams’ wallet and smacking Henry in the face when Henry grabbed his crotch.
The case against Conley and McWilliams never went to trial; both men pled guilty to second degree murder; on Aug. 31 of 2007 each was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.
“There isn’t a day that I don’t thank God that Conley and McWilliams aren’t free to take the kids of any other family,” Henry’s niece, Jennie Bennett, told Conley in court at the sentencing.
“If it were my justice system, I would carve your liver,” said Dan Howard, a friend of the Henry family.
Despite the brutality of the crime, few in Mendocino County know much about the case.
“To this day, after all this time’s gone by, if you ask a lot of people, you go over there and somebody says something, it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, they killed a gay guy didn’t they?’ That’s all it is,” said Suzan Spangler, 62, a close friend of Henry’s from Albion. “It was never really put out exactly how awful it was. I mean, it was almost like Ukiah just wanted to keep it, ‘Oh, there was a guy murdered by a couple of youngsters,’ not that it was a massacre, that it was overkill, and how ugly and premeditated it seemed to be. And when I read reports on it from the newspaper in Ukiah, they don’t seem to touch on any of that, how they saw Kevin just sitting, mindinghis own business out at the lake and drove by and said, “Oh, we should have jacked him, and then they turn around and go back. To me, that’s a plan. That’s premeditated. I’ve seen more articles in there about other things that they run day after day after day, like they’re going to fix a pothole or some place needs a speed bump. And they didn’t really make a big splash about it. That was the only reason people went over there with picket signs and got in the newspaper after this happened because nobody really was talking about it. And I mean, to me this isn’t a run of the mill, if there is such a thing as a run of the mill mugging, this was pretty danged nasty and planned out and they don’t touch on it. I’m sure there’s a lot of people around the county now who just think it was oh, something that just happened, you know, it was over drugs. He was over there making a drug deal right. The newspaper doesn’t ever clear that up. That was never proved. I think the second time they had a chance to run into him with the wallet. If they were so afraird of this big mean gay guy, when he called and said I found your wallet, all they had to do say was leave it at the bar, we’re scared of you, we’ll go pick it up tomorrow. But in my mind they just kind of went, whoa, this is manna from heaven, now we’ve got another chance.”
The inconsistencies in the perpetrators’ stories have raised as many questions as they’ve answered.
Why did Conley and McWilliams kill Kevin Henry? He was not armed nor known to be violent or dangerous. If McWilliams had already taken the cash from Henry’s wallet at the lake, as he told the Chronicle he did, what more did the men want from him when they knocked him unconscious later in the evening?
Why would Henry want to use drugs with Conley and McWilliams, and they with him?
Did his sexual orientation, not robbery, motivate the murder?
Should the prosecutor have dropped the initial charge of hate crime, stating as he did in the preliminary hearing that there was not enough evidence to support that allegation?
And what does the crime say about progressive Mendocino County, with its reputation for its tree-hugging environmentalists, marijuana growers and aging hippies?
On the night Kevin Henry disappeared, two people were beside themselves with worry. One was Nancy Farris, 49, a travel agent who had lived and traveled with Henry for more than twelve years. The other was Spangler, who had helped Henry get a job at the Albion Deli and had just launched a firewood delivery business with him.
On Nov. 2, Spangler and Farris knew something was very wrong when Henry didn’t return home before dark, as promised, in time to help Spangler back a trailer she’d bought for their firewood business down her steep driveway.
“He would have called, he always called,” she said. “Even if he’d met someone and planned to stay over he would have called. He would have nothing to hide. We weren’t his lover or his mother.”
Spangler’s first thought was that Henry had driven his car, a blue Honda Accord registered to Farris, off the Boonville Grade on Highway 253, a narrow, twisting road between Ukiah and Boonville. She and Farris phoned the sheriff that night, asking if any automobile accidents had been reported Ukiah and the coast. Then she called the local hospitals looking for Henry.
“By morning, we knew this was serious,” she said. “We called a psychic they knew in British Columbia who told us Kevin was not with his car, that she could see his car off a cliff and that he was in the woods.’”
Frustrated by the slow pace of the sheriff’s investigation, Farris and Spangler joined with Henry’s family, posting flyers with his photograph around town and offering a $5,000 reward through the Carole Sund/Carrington Foundation for information leading to his safe return.
On Nov. 11, the same day Henry’s body was found, 40 of Henry’s friends and family picketed in front of the Motel 6 in Ukiah, where Henry was last seen at 11 p.m. the night he was killed.
Today, Spangler is more furious — at the perpetrators, whom she’s convinced fabricated the story that Henry offered them cocaine and propositioned them, and at the “condescending” way she and Farris were treated by the criminal justice system. Once detectives made contact with Henry’s family in Upper Lake, Spangler said they dismissed her and Farris.
“I was more upset at the fact that the police only wanted to talk to the family, once he was found. We turned him in as being missing, we gave them as much as we could, and once we said, “oh, his family lives I Upper Lake, then they said, ‘oh, we’re just going to talk to them. They weren’t even interested that the family didn’t know he’d moved back to California. …They treated us like casual roommates,” she said. “He called us ‘The Fam.’ We knew him. He barely spoke to his family… I think everything I’ve ever seen on television or in the movies or read in books or anything, is that iff someone goes missing, they swoop on the last feople that had anything to do with the guy, and say, where were they going, what was their frame of mind, what were they talking about. They just said, ‘Sorry, we’ll deal with the family.’ And I really don’t know what the family could have told them except stuff from years ago? Because Kevin considered himself estranged from his family….They wouldn’t have been able to identify the clothes he was wearing, they wouldn’t have been able to tell them what kind of car he was driving, they wouldn’t have been able to ID any of his Cds in his car, the watch, they had to call Nancy and ask him what kind of watch he was wearing. …when something’s real pertinent, then Ok, those people over there actually do know something. Had printed up flyers. his watch. The family was looking in bars for him. We said, ‘Kevin is gay. He wouldn’t be there.’”
“Right after he was found, they swooped on him and wouldn’t even tell her what they were going to do with the body, where the ashes were going to go, they wanted all his belongings packed up, they wanted all of his stuff. These are people who haven’t seen a lot of him. But, he’s still in the morgue or the coroner’s office and they’re on the phone wanting…a list of things. The woman has just spent how many years with this guy, she’s complete Jell-o and she’s supposed to pack up all his stuff to give to them… WE decided not to argue with them and we did and we packed up.”
Farris, who had not only lost her best friend but her car and her scant savings, moved almost immediately to San Diego, where she had lived before and was offered a job at a travel agency.
“I just can’t bring myself to talk about it,” she wrote in an e-mail, declining to be interviewed for this story. “I just want to keep my memories for me. Maybe that is selfish, but I can’t help it. I am very sad all the time.”
Spangler insists the murder was not a hate crime. She believes Conley and McWilliams murdered Henry to get his wallet, not because he tried to grope them. “He never would have gone for those two guys,” she said. “They drove by and saw him sitting at the lake minding his own business. They saw a victim with out-of-state plates, did a U-turn and went back. As far as I’m concerned, they made up their mind. It was premeditated. They were going to mug him…. They didn’t know he was gay. They picked that up later to justify what they did.
“I’m still angry about it because some little do-nothing trash punks, they weren’t going to school, they weren’t contributing to society that I could see, except doing drugs and hanging out, mugging people for money. They’re still here and somebody like Kevin isn’t. I just can’t get over that, the injustice of that. Now, to top it all off, I’m going to have my tax-paying dollars so they get three meals a day. It’s not bad enough they did that to Kevin. I’ve got to support their asses.”
Although Spangler says Henry was estranged from family in Lake County, in part because they never accepted his sexual orientation, Henry’s mother, brothers and sister, who attended every court date from the arraignment of Conley and McWilliams to the sentencing, often with Henry’s nieces and nephews in tow, paint a very different picture. All appear to have adored him.
“Kevin and Mom were very close,” said Rachelle Henry, 45, who works for the Upper Lake Water District. “You almost couldn’t not be close if you knew him.”
“If there was something going on he was in the middle of it, and everybody would be laughing,” said his mother, Dorothy Henry, 73, of Upper Lake. “He was one of the teachers’ favorites. He always had fun. You’d listen to his stories about where he’d been and where he was going. He loved travel.”
Farris and Henry took many trips to Europe, later taking one three-month trip to Bali, Malaysia and Thailand, backpacking and having adventures along the way. Kevin sent postcards wherever they went.
“He was always going here and there,” said his brother Bill, 53. “We said, ‘When are you going to settle down and get a job?…But he got to see the world and we were stuck here in Upper Lake.”
Kevin met Nancy Farris in Santa Barbara, doing amateur theater together.
“She said he was so good for her because he was so good to travel with,” said his aunt. “And she did take good care of Kevin for a long time. She kept tack of him. She made him eat right. Everything was about keeping him well.”
His mother said she always knew he was gay, and that didn’t matter to her.
“I asked him and he said “No,’ he had friends that were,” Dorothy said.
“He fought it really hard,” said his aunt, Laura Denman, 66, of Los Osos. “He didn’t want be gay. He was so afraid that we weren’t going to love him anymore. He never brought any boyfriends here. He was very ashamed of being gay, and it’s so sad.”
When Kevin came out to his family in 1996, he brought news that was far more devastating.
“Nancy called and told me that he had been in the hospital and he had pneumonia, in Seattle,” Rachelle said. “He didn’t tell Mom till he got here. I was fixing dinner when he started to tell her. He said he had AIDS, and it was like he just kept stirring the gravy, and I was just always afraid that was a possibility. Maybe that’s when he said he was gay.”
Laura Denman does acknowledge that two of her daughters were shocked to learn his sexual orientation. “Diane and Laurie just wouldn’t believe it,” Denman said. “One brother in law said there’s no way Duber could be. He was afraid to be that way in front of people.”
Before Farris and Henry moved to back to Mendocino County, a month or two before he died, Dorothy spent two weeks at their home in Seattle taking care of their dog Ruby and their garden. She helped pay for the blue Honda Accord he was driving the night he was killed. It was registered to Farris, she said, because Henry thought that on SSI he couldn’t have a car. Dorothy also gave him money to help him move.
“I talked to him on Halloween, and he was so happy about his job at the Deli in Albion,” Dorothy said. “He made a cheesecake that day and he wanted my fresh apple cake recipe…Nancy called me on the 4th and said Kevin is missing. I said, ‘What do you mean missing?’ She said he went for doctor’s appointments on the 2nd and he didn’t come home. “
Like Spangler, Henry’s family believes Kevin was sitting at the Overlook smoking pot when Conley and McWilliams approached him. They swapped wallets when they cut lines of cocaine.
“He went back to the Motel 6, he had no gas money, nothing to stay over. He told the girl at the Motel 6 he was stranded. He had hoped the people would remember him from when he and Nancy had stayed there a month earlier. At the Motel 6, the girl said this Nate told Kevin it was an accident (about the wallets) and Kevin was…looking for Nate.”
“He was too trusting,” Rachelle said. “Kevin believed everyone was as good and trusting as he was. Kevin was a big guy, 6’1”. If his height wasn’t a deterrent, his smile should have been. How anyone could have done this for no reason.”
Kevin’s murder has made his family hyper-vigilant, even paranoid, they say, when any of them travel away from Upper Lake. “It’s affected how we all come and go,” Rachelle said. “It’s the going that makes it hard because you know what other people are doing out there…. My 11-year-old has a cell phone. Bennie won’t sleep in his room with the windows open. He thinks someone would come in.”
As to why the Victim Witness Program didn’t include Spangler and Farris in their meetings, the Henrys said the service was just family members. “Nancy never went to court,” Rachelle said. “They found him on the 11th and Nancy left at the end of the month so she wouldn’t have to pay rent again.”
Despite tensions between the Henrys and Farris, who they say was jealous of Kevin’s relationship with his mother, they were disappointed she did not attend the memorial for him in Upper Lake.
“She had been with Kevin for 12 years,” Dorothy said. “I asked her to share some of these stories of her time with him…There is no doubt I my mind that Nancy worshipped him, but it’s been really hard to deal with the fact that she kept Kevin away from us, she kept him away from other relationships. When she brought his stuff by, we said, ‘You had the best years and we need to know about them. We loved him, too.’ She should have appreciated more that Kevin was as loved as he was. None of us was a threat to their relationships/”
One of the family’s happiest memories of Kevin is the day he performed karaoke at the Harvest Festival in Upper Lake in 1994 singing a Garth Brooks song called the “The Dance” that seems eerily prophetic when they play him singing for a visitor:
Looking back on the memory of The dance we shared ‘neath the stars alone For a moment all the world was right How could I have known that you’d ever say goodbye.
And now I’m glad I didn’t know The way it all would end the way it all would go Our lives are better left to chance, I could have missed the pain But I’d of had to miss the dance
Marc Tosca, 65, of Ukiah, read about Conley’s murder in the local paper.
“I thought it was a hate crime without question,” said Tosca, 65, who proudly identifies himself as gay, and has read transcripts of the preliminary hearing at the courthouse, and was particularly disturbed by one version of McWilliams’ confession to Detective Jason Caudillo.
McWilliams told the dectective that the night of the murder he’d been drinking at the Pub on North State Street in Ukiah, left his wallet behind and received a phone call from Kevin Henry saying he’d found McWilliams’ wallet. McWilliams, Caudillo told the court, “returned to the pub, retrieved his wallet, declined an offer from Henry to use cocaine. Mr. Henry had propositioned Mr. McWilliams in regards to a sexual act for money. Mr. McWilliams declined, Mr. McWilliams left. Went back to Mr. Conley’s where he advised Mr. Conley that there was a faggot at the Pub with cocaine and money.”
Tosca said he was dismayed but not surprised that the medical examiner did not check Henry’s stomach and colon for semen.
“Of course, they had sex. They don’t want to check for semen,” Tosca said. “The county will cover it up as best they can. They do not want the publicity of a hate crime. This is a very corrupt little town.”
Tosca says he’s experienced firsthand the homophobia of the Mendocino County’s criminal justice. In September of 1998, he was the target of an undercover decoy/sting at his home: convicted felon, sex offender, rapist and robber convinced local law enforcement, with the district attorney’s blessings, that Tosca had forced him to have oral-genital sex.
Tosca fought the charges, going to federal court in 2000 to argue that the four officers who handcuffed him and ransacked his house had violated his civil rights. In 2002, the suit was settled: Mendocino County did not pay damages or Tosca’s sizeable legal fees, but the officers involved in the sting were required to apologize to Tosca, and the entire raid team had to take tolerance training.
“I’m shit disturber,” Tosca said. “I fight back, and you’re not supposed to.”
Tosca wrote to Kevin Henry’s brother Larry in November of 2006. “Homophobia runs rampant in Mendocino,” he said. “It’s unequivocally clear that sexual activity had taken place. If ever a hate crime be, indeed, (it’s) the Henry case.”
When men who are insecure about their own sexuality have sex with other men, Tosca told Larry Henry, they may feel profoundly guilty afterwards and can become “viciously physical.”
“Murderers must be made to comprehend (that) killing is unacceptable; their victim being a ‘faggot,’ Mendocino or not, does not alter that blatant fact,” Tosca wrote. “Do not permit your brother’s murder being slipped under the rug by those in Mendocino, who wish nothing more than that.”
Former Mendocino County District Attorney Norman Vroman was one of the many county officials whom Tosca believes wanted to slip the homophobia underlying the sting against him and Kevin Henry’s murder, under the rug.
“Everybody assumes that when somebody kills somebody like (Henry) it’s because they’re gay, and I think that’s a false assumption,” Vroman told the Chronicle in April 2006. “It just happened to be they were hand and they died.
“I understand the hoopla surrounding the enactment of that (hate crime) law. But it was just that, hoopla. My main goal is to prosecute people for the crimes they committed and get them the maximum sentence I can get, and when you get a life or a 25 to life or 15-year to life sentence on somebody that’s killed somebody, it seems superfluous to me to try to add two more years to that thing because of a hate crime, if we can prove it.
“I’ll be frank with you. I’m not going to waste a lot of time trying to prove a charge like that that only gets a two-year enhancement when I’ve got a tough job finding the evidence to prosecute him for the crime that we’re prosecuting him for. That’s a waste of my time. Not a waste, but it’s a small county and I’ve got to manage my resources. It’s not a good use of my resources, and it’s not going to stop them because all that does is come into effect after the fact, after somebody’s dead. No, it won’t stop it. You think somebody’s going to pick up a law book and say, ‘Oh, my goodness, if I murder somebody I’ll get 25 to life, but if I sexually violate them, or I do it because they’re a queer, I’m going to get two more years? Oh, I better not do that.’ That’s nonsense. Besides, no crook ever looks at a law book before they commit a crime because none of them ever think they’re going to get caught.”
In September 2006, Vroman, who served time in federal prison for income tax evasion, died of a heart attack just as federal agents were preparing to raid his Hopland home to search for marijuana plants and a possible stash of illegal weapons.
“Calling (hate crime legislation) ‘hoopla’ is inappropriate, dismissive and very ill-informed,” said Shannon Minter, an attorney and executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco. “If there is evidence of hate crime, let the jury decide. Hate crimes have a very negative effect on other gay and transgender people and ultimately on the whole society.
“We don’t’ want to live in a world where people in particular groups have to be fearful of being assaulted or attacked. So it’s important that the laws send a message that we don’t condone it and that you will pay an extra price if you engage in this very social destructive act…You’re not allowed to kill someone because they’ve sexually assaulted you.”
Chris Daley, director of the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco, said prosecuting hate crimes sends a strong message to the community that violence against protected minorities will not be prosecuted.
“I certainly don’t think it’s helpful for us to tell a prosecutor exactly what his or her strategy should be,” he said. “But it’s a little troubling that, at least as presented, that this DA seemed to have dismissed it to out of hand.”
Defending oneself from a sexual assault is entirely justified, Daley said, but when the danger is over, the right of self-defense ends.
“The whole thing that underlies the gay panic defense is, ‘Oh, in the heat of the moment this is when I did this.’ Well, it sounds like they stuff (Kevin Henry) in the car and drove for some period of time, and the idea that the heat of the moment continues during that drive and beyond is pretty impractical.”
Karen Ottoboni, a lesbian activist in Mendocino County and founder of a local gay community group called the Billy Club. She defended Vroman’s record said violence against gays in Mendocino County is very rare.
“We have a DA’s office that takes this very seriously,” she said in an interview before Vroman died. “If they felt they had enough evidence and they could nail somebody on this they would have no hesitation whatsoever to go for hate crimes.”
Ottoboni said that only three gay murders have come to light in the 28 years she’s lived in Mendocino County.
In 1998, Louis Pearson, a 44-year-old gay man from Aptos, whowas attending a Billy Club retreat in hopes of kicking his meth habit, went up to the overlook at Lake Mendocino, the same gay cruising spot where Kevin Henry met Conley and McWilliams. He met up with three men who would later beat him to death after he allegedly tired to “fondle” one of the men. All three perpetrators were arrested and sent to prison but none were charged with a hate crime.
In September 2001, Donald Perez, 39, of Santa Ana, was lured to Ft. Bragg by a young Mendocino County man with whom he’d been briefly involved. He was found by police three weeks after his death pinioned to a tree near the Noyo River. He had been robbed, hit over the head with a rock, dragged down off the bridge, forced into the brush, duct- and possibly stabbed in the throat by 18-year-old August Stuckey and two of his friends. The murderers were apprehended and sent to prison, but none was charged with a hate crime.
In the Kevin Henry case, Trevor Conley told detectives that he hit Henry because Conley grabbed his crotch. He never admitted murdering Henry and would only discuss the case with the Chronicle if he were paid. As a consequence, he was not interviewed for this story.
Nathan McWilliams, held in protective custody in Mendocino and Lake county jails, spoke to the Chronicle about half a dozen times. McWilliams. He said Henry’s being gay didn’t bother him but he acknowledged getting angry when Henry repeatedly offered to give him a blow job up at the lake.
“He goes crazy with propositioning me,” McWilliams said. “I declined as respectfully as possible. I’m starting to get mad. I was already high on meth. In retaliation, I pulled out his money….Robbing is to take forcefully. Petty theft is what I did. It wouldn’t have happened if the guy hadn’t kept trying to get sex out of us… We went back and Trevor was boasting, we could beat that fag up, something along those lines, because he was really persistent.”
Keith McWilliams, Nathan’s father, who is 47, lives in Willits and has recently started a business providing home repair and maintenance to seniors, looks younger than his age and is soft spoken like his son. He blames Henry for much of what happened that night but does not believe the murder was a hate crime or that Conley and McWilliams singled him out because he’s gay.
“What happened was Henry’s from Albion and he came over to Ukiah, basically, to do his dirty deed,” Keith said. “He’s a full blown AIDS patient and he was taking a lot of medicine for it, and was going to be dead any day anyway. But he came here and pulled himself together and was very persistent and wanted to pay them for sex and he tried everything he could. He gave them coke and I’m not sure what else. And he was pretty adamant about it. That irritated both the boys.
“He has AIDS, had AIDS, and he didn’t tell the boys that he had it or anything. He was just trying to solicit them, and that’s how this whole thing started. And then Conley hit him with his fist, and that’s what started the whole thing right there.”
Keith McWilliams also blames methamphetamine for Nathan and Conley’s behavior that night.
“They didn’t do anything right. They still had all the clothes with blood on it. That was from the drugs. Drugs, I think, make you really not care or in a fog basically….They weren’t the smartest, uh, murderers. They basically they left all this evidence.’
According to Keith McWilliams, the public defender told his son not to say anything about Henry having AIDS because “it might turn into a hate crime. But then they ruled out hate crime, and then they ruled out the death penalty. Now it’s like a lot easier to talk about it.”
Keith McWilliams believes Henry himself was a killer because he had AIDS and wanted to have sex with his son and didn’t tell Nathan about his diagnosis. “(The newspaper) made Henry look like this saint, and they made the boys look like trash, like murderers, which they are, but, well Conley is. But it just wasn’t fair that they were doing all this when Henry was actually the one that caused all these problems. Like, you know, what if he would have infected the boys? There was blood all over the place…Had they sliced their own skin with all that blood there, they would have been dead. I would much rather them be in jail for life than have AIDS.”
Conley’s lawyer, appointed by the court when the public defender representing him removed himself from the case, was criminal defense attorney Don Lipmanson of Ukiah.
“Here’s a guy taking medicine to control his HIV and he is going around propositioning left and right,” Lipmanson said. “The tragedy is that these guys just didn’t have the insight to walk away from it. You get a rage reaction.”
Still, Lipmanson said, this wasn’t a hate crime.
“I don’t think it’s a hate crime in that I don’t think that was their intention to roll and rob a gay guy because he’s gay.”
Lipmanson, who said Conley has a serious addiction to methamphetamine, believes McWilliams, not his client, killed Kevin Henry.
McWilliams had the ATM card, the watch, used the car, had the blood on the clothing. That was all compelling. What disturbs me is the police taking so much at face value. The physical evidence against Trevor wasn’t that compelling.”
Like Keith McWilliams, Lipmanson also blames methamphetamine for Henry’s death and many others in the Mendocino County.
“Nearly all my really violent cases involved methamphetamine,” he said.
Methamphetamine use is rampant among criminal offenders in Mendocino and all other California counties, according to the California Department of Alcohol and Other Drugs Program. California nearly rippled between 1991 and 2001, according to AODP.
In 2003, the number of arrestees in four California cities who tested positive for meth use was even greater, ranging from 28.7 percent in Los Angeles to 37.6 percent in Sacramento males. In females, the positive rate ranges from 18.5 percent in Los Angeles to 47.1 percent in San Diego.
Of California inmates in prison-based “therapeutic community” treatment programs, 55 percent reported having used methamphetamine. The average age of use at the time was 20. Forty-one percent repported using meth daily in the six moths prior to their incarceration. Fifty three percent reported methamphetamine as their primary drug. Return to prison statistics reveal that meth addicted individuals are among the highest at risk for re-offending and being returned to prison.
“Not everyone who gets addicted to meth moves into the wild-eyed stereotype of the tweaker on a run,” said Helen Falandes, 50, a therapist and program administrator in Mendocino County who for the last 12 years has worked in drug and alcohol treatment programs. “Those who do get addicted to meth the brain is deeply affected – disorganized thoughts, paranoia, memory loss, concentration loss and difficulty structuring time. It takes two years before your brain is probably going to hit its bottom?
Falandes believes that Mendocino’s relaxed attitudes toward marijuana have contributed to the prevalence of meth. “Meth use is on the decline in California, but it hasn’t dipped in Northern California – Lake, Humboldt and Mendocino counties,” she said. “I don’t think you can have the vast infrastructure in Mendocino of growing pot and not have a pathway.
“The very casual multigenerational acceptance of drug use is the norm.”
In families such as McWilliams’ and Conley’s, where one or both parents used drugs, addiction can begin at an early age.
“They don’t go to school, they can’t work, so selling and using drugs is an easy out,” Falandes said. “Emotional maturity is a factor. You can’t function in the adult world if you’re high on impulse and low on social skills. That leads to using more and getting into trouble.”
Nathan McWilliams, who was prescribed Rittalin for ADD at age eight, said that meth is small but steady doses, helps him function.
“It’s a rush,” he said. “It’s a good and enjoyable thing for a while. Coming clown is bad. I would do it for a little while and then take a break. So many people I know lost a lot of things to speed. First you lose your job, then you lose friends, then you lose your car, it just goes in succession. I wouldn’t let if affect my job.”
Det. Andrew Alvarado, who headed the murder investigation, said the killing of Kevin Henry probably wasn’t the result of “grabbing or anything like that. It was an escape attempt by the victim that ultimately led to his death out there.”
“They’re going to try to put Kevin Henry on trial,” Alvarado said before both men pled second-degree murder. “They’re still going to put his lifestyle on trial because ultimately statements are going to come out and again, as far as I can see in this case, it was just the fact that there wasn’t enough evidence to say, yes, without a doubt, Kevin was killed because of his sexual orientation.”
Was methamphetamine the culprit on the night of Nov. 2, 2005?
“We’ve known lots of people that do meth that would never dream of killing anybody,” Rachelle Henry said. “It’s no different from alcohol. It’s no excuse.”
Although Rachelle and her family are relieved and that Conley and McWilliams are behind bars, the pain of his loss and the violence of his death continue to haunt them.
“It’s the worst possible ride you can be taken on,” Rachelle Henry said. “There is no closure. We walk away and nothing’s changed. There’s no making this right.”