- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 1999

ROGERS, Ark. Residents of this small but booming northwest Arkansas town have circled their wagons and they don’t much care if outsiders drop by or not.
It’s not that they aren’t hospitable. It’s just because many of them are angry, irate that outsiders would judge their town harshly and so unfairly, they claim in the wake of a horrific murder a few weeks ago.
“I don’t think people know much about Rogers at all,” said Rosemary Williams, a waitress, “or they wouldn’t be blaming us for things we had no control over.”
This bustling little town 20 miles north of Fayetteville in northwest Arkansas (population 38,000) was no different than many other such towns in this part of the country conservative, law-abiding, church-going, a friendly place until a horrible death 11 weeks ago left everyone reeling.
A 13-year-old boy, Jesse Dirkhising, died of “positional asphyxia,” the result of homosexual rape and ritual, on the morning of Sept. 26.
Two homosexual men, Davis Don Carpenter, 38, and Joshua Macabe Brown, 22, told police they had been “playing games” with the youth. He had been bound, blindfolded and gagged, and various objects had been inserted in his anus to rape him.
The boy actually died choking on his own underwear, which had been stuffed in his mouth by the younger defendant, who told the cops he wanted to pause long enough to fix a sandwich in the kitchen.
The two defendants were jailed in Bentonville, the county seat, eight miles north of here.
Within hours, prosecutor Brad W. Butler announced the state would seek the death penalty.
“To say this town was on fire would be a massive understatement,” said Roger Edwards, a local salesman. “There was nothing else on people’s minds.”
Rogers Police Chief Tim Keck said he could not recall “a case more brutal.” He vowed to make a strong, solid case so that the perpetrators would be correctly punished.
Then, to further fuel rage, somebody obviously either the Benton County Prosecutor’s Office or somebody at the Rogers Police Department leaked the police reports with the defendants’ statements detailing the gruesome perversions inflicted on the boy, a seventh-grader. Some lawyers suggest that the disclosure might so prejudice residents as to make selection of a jury impossible.
The story was widely covered by newspapers and broadcast stations inside Arkansas, but was largely ignored by the Associated Press and the media elsewhere.
Some Rogers residents suggest this proved their darkest suspicions of a liberal press bias favoring homosexuals. Some commentators and columnists compared coverage of the Dirkhising death with that of Matthew Shepard, the homosexual killed in Wyoming earlier in the year.
Hate mail, irate phone calls to police and city offices often blamed Rogers for a “cover-up.” Outsiders arrived to demonstrate against Rogers as “an evil town.”
As the town anticipates what the trials early next year might bring, two unconnected facts confused public perceptions. One of the most debated aspects of the tragedy is the role of, or the lack of, parental guidance of the victim. Jesse Dirkhising lived with his mother and stepfather in nearby Prairie Grove but was said to have been spending weekends at the Carpenter-Brown apartment so he could do odd jobs at the hair salon where Mr. Carpenter was a stylist.
Mr. Carpenter was a known homosexual. He was said to be friends with the victim’s parents. It was not only obvious that they knew that Mr. Carpenter was homosexual, but that he lived with a lover.
“What kind of mother would allow her 13-year-old to be around that situation?” asks Fran Singleton, a woman who once lived in the apartment complex near the site of the murder.
“I don’t want to pass judgment here,” says the mayor. “I don’t know enough about their personal circumstances, don’t know how much they knew about these two individuals’ lifestyles.” But he added, “I do find it surprising, even somewhat incredible, they would allow him to stay with a person they either knew about or didn’t know enough about.”
Meanwhile, the prosecutor is facing questions about affairs he is said to have conducted with two women here, including a 20-year-old criminal defendant his office was prosecuting. Mr. Butler denies both accusations. The results of a special prosecutor’s report has been sealed, and reporters have gone to court to have the report made public. Mr. Butler will not discuss the case.
“The results of that investigation should be made public,” says Kermit Womack, owner of local radio station KURM, who hosts a daily talk show on which he discusses topics of interest. “If he’s telling the truth and is innocent, that report will be kind to him,” Mr. Womack says. “I think there are things there he does not want the public to know about.”

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