I had a specific purpose in my life when I decided on April 30, 1993, to live in San Diego. That purpose was to live proudly as an openly gay man. I was 38. I wanted to experience anything and everything related to being gay. Many of my new friends said that I came out with a vengeance.
I often went places alone, like to gay bars at night. I was in Hillcrest, a heavily gay neighborhood of San Diego. I felt safe. Friends, though, continued to tell me to be aware.
Yesterday I took a guided tour of Hillcrest and its gay history. One of our stopping points was at the Hate Crime Memorial Plaque.
HATE CRIME MEDICAL PLAQUE
IS DEDICATED IN MEMORY OF
17-YEAR OLD JOHN ROBERT WEAR
AND OTHER VICTIMS OF HATE CRIMES.
ON DECEMBER 13, 1991, THREE MEN BRUTALLY ATTACKED A GROUP
OF FRIENDS AS THEY WALKED DOWN UNIVERSITY AVENUE.
THIS INCIDENT WAS CONSIDERED A HATE CRIME BECAUSE THE
PERPETRATORS CALLED OUT “FAGGOTS” AS THEY PURSUED.
ONE OF THE YOUTH, JOHN WEAR, WAS FATALLY STABBED.
CITIZENS OF THIS COMMUNITY ARE DEDICATED TO ENDING
HATRED AND VIOLENCE ON OUR STREETS.
I vaguely recall stories about that incident but I was shocked reading the plaque on our tour. I found an article dated June 26, 1992, in the Los Angeles Times which I want to publish in its entirety here. I think it’s important.
Suspect Held in Hillcrest Attacks That Left One Dead : Crime: The fatal stabbing of a teen-ager in December galvanized gays and others in the community.
June 26, 1992, RICHARD CORE, SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
An East San Diego man is being held in connection with three attacks in Hillcrest last December that culminated in the killing of a high school student and galvanized gays and others in the community in a continuing vigil against hate crimes.
San Diego police Thursday booked Eddie Barton, 25, on suspicion of murder and attempted murder in the Dec. 13 fatal stabbing of 17-year-old John Robert Wear and the beating of one of Wear’s two companions.
Barton was already in custody at the County Jail downtown after police arrested him Tuesday at his home in the 800 block of Carlsbad Street. He was arraigned Wednesday on two charges of battery for attacks that preceded the assault on Wear, homicide Lt. John Welter said.
All the attacks occurred within a few blocks of each other. Between 10:30 and 11 p.m. Dec. 13, a man walking in the 1700 block of University Avenue was punched in the face by at least one of two attackers. A few minutes later, another man walking in the 1000 block of University Avenue had his nose broken in an attack.
Ten minutes later, Wear, of Del Cerro, and two teen-age companions were attacked in the 1000 block of Essex Street as they walked from their car to Soho, a popular coffeehouse a block away on University Avenue.
“In all three attacks,” Welter said, “witnesses stated that the suspects were yelling epithets of homosexual nature at the victims.”
Witnesses also gave similar descriptions of two assailants involved in the attacks, saying they sported short-cropped hair, combat boots and flannel shirts.
Welter said police are hoping to identify the second suspect believed to have participated with Barton in the attacks.
Wear, a senior at Twain Junior-Senior High School, who was not gay, was stabbed in the chest and died a day later in Mercy Hospital after receiving 250 units of blood in an attempt to save his life. One of his two companions, Bryan Baird, then 18 and a senior at Patrick Henry High School, was cut in the face. The name of the third youth, who was not seriously hurt, was not released.
Gay and lesbian community leaders expressed cautious relief Thursday at the news of Barton’s arrest.
Anthony V. Zampella, publisher of Bravo!, a magazine geared to gays, urged the district attorney’s office to seek enhanced penalties against Barton under the state’s hate crimes law.
“It was definitely a hate crime,” Zampella said. “Until people are prosecuted for these types of crimes, there isn’t going to be an automatic deterrent.”
Steve Casey, a district attorney’s spokesman, said that, if a hate crimes enhancement is sought, it will be attached to the battery charges. The enhancement cannot be applied to murder charges, Casey said.
Wear’s death sparked an outcry from gay and lesbian groups and others in the Hillcrest community against a series of 30 attacks, mostly along University Avenue, that began last July. After Wear died, hundreds of people turned out for a candlelight march and an angry meeting with police.
Police responded by appointing a task force to investigate the crimes and more officers to patrol the area’s streets.
In one of the first efforts of its kind, organized by City Councilman John Hartley, police worked with residents to form a citizens patrol whose volunteer members began driving Hillcrest’s streets, watching for suspicious activity.
Although the task force was disbanded in February, with officers shifted to other duties in the city, the Citizens Patrol has remained. Through the efforts of gay groups and community newspapers, the patrol’s membership has risen to more than 100, with about 50 members regularly participating in patrols, said Wendy Sue, a member of the patrol’s steering committee.
Two-citizen teams armed with a cellular telephone now regularly drive the streets, reporting suspected crimes to police. The result, both police and community leaders say, has been a noticeable decrease in violent street crimes and a cautious feeling that Hillcrest is safer.
“In all honesty, the typical thing like that starts off strong with a lot of community support, and then people lose interest,” said police Sgt. Dennis Love, who oversees patrols in the area. “This, on the other hand, has started out strong and kept going.
“You’ve got some really involved people there who are interested in making their community a better place to be.”
Love said police have been so impressed by the Citizens Patrol that it is being used as a model for other communities concerned with fighting crime.
With the support of Wear’s parents, the Lesbian and Gay Men’s Community Center created the John Wear Memorial Award to honor people who perform outstanding service in the fight against hate crimes. Two weeks ago, the center presented the award to Hartley and the Citizens Patrol.
I wanted to know more about Eddie Barton, so I continued searching. Although not about Eddie Barton, the following article from the July 2001 issue of San Diego Magazine contains additional information about this attack.
Taking Back Neighborhoods
BY THOMAS SHESS
Citizens Patrol, one of the best tools to fight crime at the neighborhood level, was forged 10 years ago in San Diego’s Mid-City area amid a firestorm of public fear, frustration and outrage. Between June and December of 1991, the uptown communities, including Hillcrest, were in the grips of a chilling reign of hate. The almost-daily reports of gay-bashings and strong-arm street robberies were paralyzing a pedestrian-oriented community already staggering from the AIDS epidemic.
By mid-’91, police and the San Diego City Council were keenly aware of the war zone atmosphere in and around Hillcrest. In the District 3 council office that represents Hillcrest, the ears of those answering calls were burning from citizen demands that police stop the violence. By Thanksgiving, police had recorded more than 50 incidents.
Of all the neighborhoods in San Diego, Hillcrest/Uptown stays awake the latest. Hillcrest in the wee hours is pedestrian-friendly, like many areas in San Francisco, Chicago, New Orleans, Manhattan. It’s not unusual for citizens here to be making the scene at midnight, café- and club-hopping. The heart of the gay and lesbian community, Hillcrest in 1991 was ripe for all manner of thugs prowling the neighborhood and targeting homosexuals.
December 13, 1991, was as good a night as any for two men in their mid-20s looking for such entertainment. It was Friday the 13th. Witnesses later reported the two had shaved heads and were wearing combat gear and military boots. One had s*k*i*n tattooed on the knuckles of a hand.
Also in Hillcrest that night was John Robert Wear, a 17-year-old high school senior from San Carlos. With buddies Bryan Baird and Jacob Isaacsen, Wear had parked in the 1000 block of Essex, a residential street south of busy University Avenue. They locked their car and proceeded on foot toward SoHo, a coffeehouse on University near Richmond, then popular with locals of every stripe. It was also a place for underage students to hang with an eclectic crowd.
The teens never made it to SoHo.
Witnesses later testified in court that the thugs, unprovoked, began taunting the boys and spewing anti-gay epithets. The name-calling turned ugly—and violent. Wear and Baird attempted to defend themselves as they were hammered by fists. Several kicks sent Wear to the sidewalk. Witnesses heard one of the assailants yell, “Stop whimpering, faggot.”
Assault turned to murder. One basher pulled a knife and stabbed Wear while he was down. Then he turned on Baird and struck a nonfatal blow to his head. Isaacsen ran for help.
Wear, who had hoped to join the Army the following [sic; missing text] was rushed to Mercy Hospital’s emergency unit, less than a mile away. Death was not immediate. Stab wounds take longer. Bleeding to death is a horrific death sentence, especially when compounded by a vicious beating. Wear’s father, John Sr., was at his son’s bedside when he died—in the same hospital where young John was born in 1976.
Baird survived his head wound. He and Isaacsen were key witnesses in two trials that saw the assailants convicted and sent to prison. Eddie Barton, the knifer—the one with s*k*i*n tattooed on his knuckles—is still serving a term of 20 years to life. He continues to deny he murdered anyone. Michael DiPaolo was convicted for his part in the crime. He served four years in prison before he was released.
Speaking at Barton’s trial, Wear’s father pointed at the convicted killer. “The stab wounds, the bruises, the boot marks from head to toe, overwhelmed me,” the father said, “This man’s an animal. The rest of his days should be spent in prison.”
I discovered that Eddie Barton was convicted of second degree murder, assault with a deadly weapon, and battery with serious injury, and is serving 20 years to life in prison. He is eligible for parole and has had several parole hearings. I found documentation from his 2008 Parole Board hearing where his parole was denied as the Board found him “unsuitable for release.” Most of the 10-page document from the United States District Court, Eastern District of California, is legal stuff relating to Eddie Barton’s Writ of Habeas Corpus. The Statement of Facts, however, is interesting, and I copy it in its entirety here:
The commitment offense occurred when Petitioner [Barton] and his coconspirators [sic] went to the Hillcrest area in San Diego, known to be frequented by homosexual, gay men. Petitioner and his friends were known as skinheads and set out to commit a hate crime, targeting gay males. On December 13, 1991, at approximately 11:15 p.m., the first victim, Keith Keziah, was walking toward the Hillcrest Coffee Shop when he was approached by Petitioner and his coconspirators [sic]. Petitioner asked him if he dated, and the victim ignored him and crossed the street to avoid a confrontation. Petitioner and his friends continued to harass Mr. Keziah, and they became angry. After not receiving a response, Petitioner grabbed Keziah by the shirt, swung him around, and punched him in the face, breaking his nose. Keziah ran away and sought assistance. Approximately 15 minutes later, Petitioner and his coconspirators [sic], approached victims, John Wear and Brian Baird who were walking to the same coffee shop. Mr. Baird greeted Petitioner and his friend and he was suddenly without provocation struck in the nose. Petitioner then began attacked Mr. Wear, and Baird saw Petitioner pull a knife from wear’s stomach. Petitioner then told Wear, “don’t cry, faggot” and started kicking him again. As Baird moved to help Wear, Petitioner turned and went towards him stating, “Do you want some? Do you want some?” Petitioner [sic; I think that should be Baird] then turned his back and crouched down stating, “No, I don’t want anything. I don’t even know you.” Petitioner then began hitting Baird in the head and kicking him in his back. Baird later discovered that Petitioner had cut his head, and Petitioner told him, “You better run.” John Wear died two days later as a result of the wounds to his abdomen. He also suffered wounds to the right thigh and a superficial wound to his left buttocks. Petitioner also suffered blunt force trauma, including bruises and abrasions to his right cheek, left ear, chest area, right forearm, and inside of both knees. Petitioner was arrested in part because he bragged that he had gotten into a fight with some homosexuals, and he stabbed one of them.
In memory of John Wear.