The Project

ACCESSORY TO MURDER: Our Culture’s Complicity in the Death of Ryan Skipper

“In Florida, hate crimes against gays and lesbians are among the most violent.”

On March 14, 2007, 25 year old Ryan Skipper of Polk County Florida was brutally murdered because he was gay. William David Brown, Jr., age 20, and Joseph Eli Bearden, age 21, were indicted on first degree murder charges. Ryan’s body – with 19 stab wounds, a severed carotid artery, and a severe cranial contusion – was found on a dark, rural road in Wahneta, Florida less than 2 miles from his home. The accused killers allegedly drove Ryan’s blood-soaked car around the county and bragged of killing him. According to a sheriff’s department affidavit, one of the men stated that Ryan was targeted because he was a “faggot.” In trial testimony, Bearden was quoted as saying, “he felt he was doing the world a favor by getting rid of one more faggot.”

Ryan Skipper
The heinous anti-gay murder received little media attention following irresponsible, erroneous and homophobic statements made by Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, that falsely linked Ryan to check fraud, and implied that Ryan was responsible for his own death. Much of the mainstream and gay media perpetuated Judd’s statements without investigating the facts, and public interest was lost. Ryan Skipper was murdered, maligned and ignored all simply because he was gay.

This not-for-profit documentary, Accessory to Murder: Our Culture’s Complicity in the Death of Ryan Skipper, explores the rampant homophobia which is present in our culture’s institutions, from religion, education, law enforcement to politics. Our society and its leaders must bear responsibility for the murder of Ryan Skipper who lived in a culture that devalued and demeaned him, and ultimately targeted him for violence and death.

“We must ask ourselves, what is it about our society that would support these violent actions?”

Producers Mary Meeks and Vicki Nantz explore the culture-wide homophobia on a local and national level that was complicit in the brutal killing of Ryan Skipper. With analysis from licensed psychologist Kathryn Norsworthy, Ph.D., of Rollins College, and civil rights activist Brian Winfield of Equality Florida, we look at the pervasive hostility and hate that continues to foster violence, intolerance, discrimination and death against those in the LGBT community. Reverend Phyllis Hunt of Tampa MCC explores the hateful anti-gay rhetoric that “demonizes, marginalizes and segregates” its way from the pulpit and public square into the minds of killers.

“I was so proud of him, he was always the best son.”

This documentary was independently produced following an outcry from Ryan’s family and friends who wanted the truth of his life and death to be told when the media chose to turn away. In addition to Kathryn Norsworthy, Brian Winfield, and Rev. Phyllis Hunt, other participants include Ryan’s mother, stepfather and brother, several of Ryan’s closest friends, as well as Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan and Florida gay rights activist Debbie Simmons.

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