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WHY THIS YOUNG MAN'S DEATH MATTERS

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@rule:
@body:I called Newell and Karen Despain to find out more about their boy. No one else seemed to know much about Michael.

What they told me only made things worse.
Some folks are dealt a better hand in life than others; Michael got cards no one could play.

After being beaten and abused as a toddler, Michael was abandoned.
Newell and Karen adopted the boy when he was 6.
"The state told us he had problems," said Karen.
The authorities did not overstate the case.

Michael Despain was retarded. Whether it was grade school, the Boy Scouts or the Boys Club, Karen said her boy could not cope, nor could these organizations deal with him.

"He was a loving child with a sense of humor, but he went through what all handicapped children go through with people's meanness," said Karen.

While he was articulate, he could not take care of himself. Finally, he was hospitalized. His doctor told Karen the boy was a hydrocephalic.

Michael eventually spent years in group homes. Though his mother and father both thought Michael needed a sheltered environment, when their boy came of age, no one had the power to keep him in a structured setting. "A year ago, he decided he was gay," said his mother. "I tried to explain the consequences of living on his own, but he wanted to experiment."

The state, no longer entitled to protect Michael from himself, armed him with a disability check. It was just enough money to buy the retarded boy his freedom, and, finally, his death. The predators pounced quickly on Michael. His mother explained that her son found himself in a physically abusive relationship with another man. Karen Despain had begun the difficult legal effort to get guardianship of her son.

"When we gave these people their civil liberties, people like Michael lost their safety," said his mother.

Karen Despain carried in her purse, every day, a letter from a child psychiatrist describing her son's complex problems. Whenever she became discouraged about the difficulty of getting legal custody of her grown boy, she would take the letter out and read it to herself.

The day her ex-husband called and told her that Michael was dead, Karen Despain took the letter out of her purse for the last time and put it in a final resting place. She does not ever want to read it again.

"I knew something was going to happen to Michael," she said. "I used to talk about it with his case manager. We both thought Michael would get one of life's little bounces, something that might bring him to his senses . . . not this."
And Karen Despain, who has talked so bravely about her son, can go no further without crying.

"I don't want him hurt anymore, even in death. He was hurt so much when he was alive. I'm 90 miles away; I trusted the police to do their job." @rule:

@body:We do not know so terribly much about Michael Despain. He saw a want ad in a paper advertising a room for rent, and perhaps it seemed like a haven from an abusive relationship.

It is not very likely that Michael Despain ever had the time to grasp clearly the danger lurking in his new neighborhood.

He called his mother on June 2 to tell her about his new home. Seven days later, he was dead.

Even these thin scraps of biography were unknown to the gay leaders who met on three separate occasions with police administrators, hoping to prod the authorities into investigating the possibility that the arson/homicide was a hate crime.

Nor did the community leaders have any thought that the police already knew full well about the gay bashing of Michael Despain. The homosexual and lesbian activists simply brought to the police a somewhat credible allegation from a television reporter. Wouldn't the police please follow up on the tip?

No, the police would not.
Gay leaders met again with police brass after my first column on the Despain homicide and, once more, they were confronted with the question that the cops had been throwing up to them from day one: We already have the perpetrator, Tyrone Davis, in jail; why does it matter if the murder is investigated as a hate crime? Why, indeed?

Many of you who are reading this column have made it clear that you ask the same question. Others are more direct. You write in your letters that you are exhausted by the whole notion of gay victims. The very idea offends your religious and moral sensibilities.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey