Forcier, the UU minister, confirmed Baines’s view that the community was intolerant.
“Articles appeared in the Bangor Daily News likening homosexuality with being sexually active with animals,” he said. “The general climate fostered [gay-bashing], making it somehow permissible.”
According to Jack McDevitt, Northeastern University professor and co-author of the book Hate Crimes: The Rising Tide of Bigotry and Bloodshed, young white males like Baines, Ness, and Mabry, between 16 and 21 and traveling in groups, fit the profile of typical gay-bashers.
“Some young men fear and don’t understand gay and lesbian people,” he told me in a telephone interview. “In American society, gays and lesbians are the only communities that are still okay to hate.”
He cited local and statewide efforts to pass antigay laws. Parents and clergy attempt to restrict classroom discussion of gay and lesbian experiences in the schools, and they ban books on the topic from school libraries.
“The message kids are getting from society,” he concluded, “is ‘we don’t care about gay and lesbian people.’”
Baines credits his change in attitude about gays and lesbians to a number of factors, including the therapy he received in the youth detention center.
“They helped us identify our bad thoughts to monitor our thinking process,” he explained. “They made us look at the pain we caused and walk in our victims’ shoes.” In addition, since his release, he has made friends with gays and lesbians.
Asked if Ness and Mabry had undergone similar changes of heart, Baines said he has lost touch with them. But about seven years ago, Lois Reed was at the UU of Bangor when a young man called, asking for the location of Charlie Howard’s grave.
“At first, he didn’t identify himself,” said Reed. “We talked for about two hours, and he finally told me he was Shawn Mabry. I told him I knew, and asked why he wanted to know about the grave site, and I said that there are people who would think he was trying to get the information so he could desecrate it. But he said he wouldn’t, that he was just curious.”
“He never apologized to me for what he did, but asked me how I felt about the three of them. I said I wish them well and hope they will go on to lead productive and decent lives. I also said I hope they truly understand what they have done.”
During Baines’s presentation at Biddeford Middle School, a male student asked if he had apologized to Howard’s family. For Baines, this remained an unfinished chapter in the story. Sergeant Harriman explained that soon after the murder, people in the community had made threatening phone calls to Howard’s mother and had thrown eggs at her house, and she had since moved from the area.
“I’ve made attempts to contact with her,” said Baines, “but with no success.”
Throughout his presentation, Baines returned to his primary motive for speaking out.
“Gay-bashing is wrong. Harassment is wrong,” he stressed. “People are people no matter what we think they are, no matter what they do, or no matter how different they seem to us. None of us really has the right to judge somebody else.”
He expressed remorse for his actions saying, “If I live to be 90, I will never forget what happened that night. I like to fish and golf and go camping and stuff like that. But I still never forget what I was involved in, and that my victim will never be able to enjoy those types of things.
“I want to do my part to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again. To make sure that I’ll know I tried to prevent another kid from going to jail, or ultimately, somebody from being killed.”
Forcier, who left the UU of Bangor in 1985 and serves currently as the minister at the Barre Unitarian Universalist in Barre, Vermont, says, “I would like to tell Jim Baines that I am both saddened and gratified: saddened that it took a death for him to speak out against hate crimes and gratified that his attitude has turned around and that his current actions may save lives.”
Says Lois Reed, “Shock carried me through those days 10 years ago. I remember closing my eyes, thinking, ‘How could these young people have learned so much hatred in such a short time?”
In an emotion-choked voice, she continued, “I’m crying even after all these years. It’s still a very painful subject for me.” After a long moment, she added, “I believe that today, he is not the same Jim Baines who killed my friend; but I still loathe the Jim Baines who killed my friend.”
This article was originally published in World: The Journal of the Unitarian Universalist Association, (VIII(4). July/August 1994). Dedicated to the memory of Charles O. Howard, 1961-1984