by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
The murder of a young Waterloo, Iowa, man is being investigated as a hate crime, according to police.
Police sources also say that the FBI has offered its assistance in the investigation.
Marcellus Andrews, 19, was repeatedly punched and kicked in front of a friend's house on the morning of August 19. According to witnesses, his assailants called him a 'faggot' and other anti-Gay slurs both before and during the attack.
Andrews died August 21 after being taken off life support at the University of Iowa Hospital, where he had been taken for treatment.
Early reports quoted Waterloo Police Lieutenant Michael McNamee to the effect that the murder would not be investigated as a hate crime because of a 'history of bad blood' between Andrews and his killers.
Waterloo's Director of Safety Services - the equivalent of police chief - Dan Trelka told SGN on August 23 that his department has not ruled out anti-Gay bias as the motive for the crime.
'It is being investigated as a hate crime,' Trelka insisted. 'We are exploring every option.'
'In the end, it's up to the county attorney to decide how to charge,' Trelka added, 'but Iowa has a very strong hate crimes law.'
According to the HRC's digest of state hate crimes laws, 'Iowa hate crime law explicitly addresses sexual orientation-motivated violence,' but does not cover gender identity or expression. In the Andrews case, sexual orientation is the issue, so his killers could be charged with a hate crime under Iowa law.
Trelka assumed command of Waterloo police in May last year, after working as chief of police in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. He says that out of 125 officers in his Waterloo department, he has 'seven or eight' who are Gay or Lesbian.
There is no friction, he added, between his Gay and Lesbian officers and the straight ones.
'We're all on the same team,' Trelka said. 'I was in the Marines, and it's like that - all on the same team. I really enjoy the tolerance.'
Trelka told SGN that 'we have six detectives working on the case and an FBI agent came over to talk to us' about the investigation.
The FBI visit was confirmed by FBI spokesperson Sandy Breault.
'Any time there's the possibility of a hate crime, we reach out to assist,' she told SGN. 'I'm not saying we're leading the investigation, but we've offered assistance.'
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 added crimes motivated by the victim's real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity to the FBI's jurisdiction.
Breault declined to discuss the specifics of the case, however.
Trelka also was reluctant to discuss specifics, but he did tell SGN that 'we have not arrested anyone, but we have several persons of interest' in the case.
'We know everybody who was there,' Trelka said, 'and everyone present has been willing to talk to us - but their accounts differ widely, as you might imagine.'
According to Trelka, the incident which resulted in Andrews' death was not a straightforward attack on him, but a brawl in which he was one of several people injured.
'A melee is a good way to describe it,' Trelka said. 'The question is whether sexual orientation was the motive, or the only motive.'
Trelka confirmed that Andrews' attackers called him a 'faggot' and other anti-Gay slurs.
'That word was being thrown around - as were other words,' he said.
Trelka also contradicted early reports that Andrews had a history of feuding with his attackers.
'There was an indirect history,' he told SGN, 'not specifically with the gentleman who died. We're not aware of any history with the victim, but there was a prior history with friends of the victim.'
According to eyewitness reports in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Andrews was visiting the home of his friend Nakita Wright at 12:45 a.m. on August 19.
Wright told reporters that she and her cousin, Tudia Simpson, decided to go for a walk, while Andrews opted to stay behind on the enclosed porch of her house.
Wright and Simpson said they had gone about one block when they heard yelling back at the house.
They ran back and found a truck stopped in the street. The occupants of the truck were taunting Andrews, calling him 'faggot' and other slurs.
Simpson admitted punching a girl who participated in the name-calling.
'She kept saying it, and I hit her,' Simpson told the Courier.
At some point during the ensuing scuffle, Wright says, she realized that Andrews was lying on the ground at her feet.
'I tried to help him up, and then this boy ran back and kicked him in his face,' Wright said.
After the brawl ended, she tried to help Andrews to his feet. She says he appeared dazed, but she grabbed one of his arms and tried to lift him. He also pushed up with his other arm, she says, but then gave up.
Wright then dialed 911, and when medics arrived they flew Andrews to the University of Iowa Hospital for treatment.
'It's just not fair,' Wright told the Courier. 'I don't wish that to happen to my worst enemy.'
Friends told reporters that Andrews had previously been singled out because of his sexual orientation.
'Some people treated him differently because they thought his sexuality [was different]. That's just how Marcellus acted. I didn't look at him like that,' Brittany Lanier told CBS affiliate KGAN-TV.
Andrews had studied cosmetology at La James College and was about to start a program in interior design at Hawkeye Community College. He helped to train the Crusaders Drill Team at Waterloo's Union Baptist Church.
According to Alexis Wright, another of Nakita's cousins, Andrews was especially fond of coaching the children's step team.
'He would practice with the little ones, making sure they get it,' she said.
'All the children were affected by it. When they announced [Andrews' death], they were literally on the floor crying,' Wright added.
The children were not the only ones shedding tears.
'When I read Marcellus' name, I just broke down and started crying,' Pat Bower, leader of the Union Baptist Crusaders, told NBC affiliate KWWL-TV.
She added that Andrews had never been known as a troublemaker.
'There must have been some sort of disagreement with someone, now that I can see. But not for him to start the disagreement, because that's just not Marcellus,' Bower said.
Friends honored Andrews with an impromptu memorial on the day after his death.
'He won't be here no more, no more,' Samtrese Harris told KGAN-TV.
'He was more than a friend, he was our everything,' Brittany Lanier added. 'It just hurts because he didn't deserve to get treated like that.'
The Midwest Give 'Em Hope Project held a more formal candlelight vigil at Dubuque's Town Clock Plaza on August 25. Vigils in other Iowa towns were held on the same date.
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