Jeff Whittington

Jeff Whittington

Jeff Whittington (February 2, 1985May 8, 1999) was a teenager who was murdered by two men in an anti-gay hate crime in Wellington, New Zealandcite web |title=Hearing in NZ Murder of Boy,14 |url=http://www.planetout.com/news/article-print.html?1999/10/19/1 |date=1999-10-19 |accessdate=2007-06-13 |work=PlanetOut] , prompting widespread shock and outrage. It is unknown whether Whittington was gay, but his murderers believed him to be, and as such the murder was classified as a hate crime.

Whittington was beaten by Jason Morris Meads and Stephen Smith, suffering severe facial injuries and perforated bowels. After being taken to the hospital, he died of brain swelling.

At the time of his death, Whittington had dyed his hair purple and was wearing fluorescent green nail polish [NZPA, 1999b] . His friends reported that he often had an effeminate manner. His attackers targeted him because they believed he was homosexual (perhaps because of his appearance). As such, the murder was probably motivated by homophobia.

The night of Whittington's death

At 4.20am on May 8, 1999, Whittington was found lying apparently unconscious by a police officer on Vivian Street in Wellington. The police officer believed that Whittington was drunk, picked him up and asked if he was alright [NZPA, 1999a] . Whittington assured the officer that he did not need assistance and was on his way home. The officer left Whittington and did not report the boy to police headquarters [NZPA, 1999a] .

Whittington was found by two passersby in Inverlochy Place at 4.40am, beaten and with head injuries. Ambulance staff attempted to resuscitate Whittington during the trip to Wellington Hospital, but were unsuccessful. Whittington died on the morning of the 9th May in the intensive care unit of Wellington Hospital [NZPA, 1999a] .

An autopsy completed on 10th May revealed that Whittington's injuries were not accidental. He had suffered head injuries and a perforated bowel. Datura and alcohol were found in his blood. Police started a homicide investigation [NZPA, 1999b] .

On 11th May, two men came forward to give statements to police regarding Whittington's beating and death. They were arrested by police and charged with Whittington's murder [NZPA, 1999c] . The accused were Jason Morris Meads (aged 25, unemployed) and Stephen Smith (aged 27, unemployed) [NZPA, 1999d] .

The court case

The Crown prosecutor alleged that shortly after the police officer left Whittington at 4.20am, Meads and Smith stopped and offered him a ride home [NZPA, 1999e] . Instead, Meads and Smith drove Whittington to Inverlochy Place, dragged him out of the car and assaulted him with blows to the head and body [NZPA, 1999e] .

One of the witnesses who found Whittington after the assault, Jody Hopkinson, testified that he was kneeling by the side of the road with his arms outstretched [NZPA, 1999e] . His nose and upper lip were smashed in. Hopkinson's friend asked Whittington if he needed help. Wittington appeared to become distressed but was unable to speak. Hopkinson and her friend woke a local resident and asked them to call the police. After some time they realised the resident had gone back to bed. They successfully called for an ambulance at another flat. When cross-examined by the defense, Hopkinson agreed that Whittington was waving his arms about and appeared "trippy" [NZPA, 1999e] .

A witness, Daniel Lewis (aged 17) claimed that Meads and Smith told him on the morning of Whittington's attack "something about how they f***** up a faggot and they left him for dead" [NZPA, 1999d] . When Lewis asked if they had really beaten him and left him for dead, Meads replied "The faggot was bleeding out of places I have never seen before" [NZPA, 1999d] .

Another witness, Adam McCurly (aged 16) testified that he had also seen Meads and Smith on the morning of Whittington's murder [NZPA, 1999d] . He told the court "They were talking about beating someone". Asked by the Crown prosecutor how Meads and Smith had appeared that morning, McCurly said "They had been drinking so they were quite happy" [NZPA, 1999e] .

The pathologist, Kenneth Thomson, testified that Whittington had died from swelling of the brain caused by multiple blows to the head [NZPA, 1999f] . Imprints from a boot or shoe were found in Whittington's head, suggesting that Whittington was kicked in the head repeatedly. Whittington also suffered from a perforated small intestine, consistent with a strong blow to the abdomen. Under cross-examination, Thomson agreed that some of the injury to Whittington's head could have been caused by a fall, but not all of it [NZPA, 1999f] .

The defense argued that Meads and Smith had not intended to kill Whittington, and that therefore they should be found guilty of manslaughter rather than murder [NZPA, 1999g] . However, Crown prosecutor Kenneth Stone argued that the blows to Whittington's head indicated the accused were intent on seriously injuring him and this should be taken into account by the jury [NZPA, 1999g] .

Smith, in a statement to police, claimed that Meads had jumped up and down on Whittington's head [NZPA, 1999f] . Smith also admitted to kicking Whittington a few times. He told his sister, Rochelle Smith, that he thought they may have killed Whittington [NZPA, 1999f] .

Meads told his father he had attacked Whittington, "You know that young boy that was killed? I did it. I didn't mean to do it. I'm so sorry." [NZPA, 1999f] .

The defense argued that because Whittington had consumed datura earlier that morning, he may have been difficult and combative [NZPA, 1999g] . This, he argued, could have led to a confrontation between Whittington, Smith and Meads leading to an assault. This would have differed from the Crown's account of Whittington's attack which they characterised as a prolonged brutal assault [NZPA, 1999g] .

On 3rd December 1999, after deliberating for 9 hours, a High Court jury found Meads and Smith guilty of murdering Whittington. The judge sentenced both men to life imprisonment [NZPA, 1999g] .

Play

'Corner of 4am and Cuba', based on the events around Whittington's murder and its impact on the community, had its premiere season at Bats Theatre in Wellington, New Zealand from April 12 to 21, 2007. It was produced and directed by Ronald Trifero Nelson and staged by members of The Wheelbarrow Group.

ee also

*Violence against LGBT people

References

* Alley, O. 1999. Boy Left By Police Later Killed, The Dominion, 11 May.
* New Zealand Press Association (NZPA). 1999. Police Saw Boy Sprawled in Street Before He Died, 10 May.
* NZPA. 1999a. Two Men Charged with Murder of Wellington Boy, 11 May.
* NZPA. 1999b. Two Men Appear in Court Charged with Boys’ Murder, 12 May.
* NZPA. 1999c. Men to Stand Trial for Murder After Deps Hearing, 18 October.
* NZPA. 1999d. Accused Jumped on Victim’s Head, Family Told, 19 October.
* NZPA. 1999e. Injured Jeff Whittington a Ghoulish Sight, Court Hears, 30 November.
* NZPA. 1999f. ‘Faggot’ Kicked, Jury Told, 1 December.
* NZPA. 1999g. Pair Guilty of Murdering Wellington Teenager, 3 December.


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