A Sacramento County Superior Court jury found Kyle Billy Fletcher, 38, guilty of first-degree murder Thursday in the 2015 strangling death of Dan Aiello, a longtime gay freelance reporter for the Bay Area Reporter (BAR) and California Progress Report. The decision was reached two days after closing arguments and deliberations began on Tuesday, July 10.
Fletcher was also found guilty of “using a deadly and dangerous weapon and possession of methamphetamine with the intent to sell,” according to BAR reporter Alex Madison who reported from Sacramento. Fletcher’s sentencing is scheduled for August 24 at which time he could get 26 years to life in prison.
On April 15, 2015, Sacramento police responded to a disturbance early in the morning and found Fletcher carrying out a flat screen TV from Aiello’s home/shop as a woman waited outside in a car. Moments after police arrived, they discovered Aiello, 53, dead in his bedroom, which adjoins a bike rental business that he owned, Midtown Moped. A belt was wrapped around his neck, according to BAR.
Fletcher’s defense attorney, Donald Dorfman, pushed for involuntary manslaughter, arguing the accused was acting in self-defense against an unwanted sexual advance from Aiello. Dorfman said his client, who was known to Aiello for years, intended to use just enough force to rebuff him—but never meant to kill him. “My client may be a lot of things; a drug dealer, a male prostitute, a liar, but he is not a murderer,” Dorfman said in his closing argument.
Deputy District Attorney William Satchell countered that the defendant pulled the belt while stepping on Aiello’s back for leverage, deliberately strangling him to death. He said a footprint found on the victim’s back matched the tread on the shoes Fletcher was wearing on the day of the murder. And the day before, the deputy DA said, Fletcher learned Aiello filed an incident report that alleged Fletcher had stolen $200—a possible motive.
Crying was heard in the courtroom during closing arguments, when graphic pictures of Aiello’s body were presented, according to BAR.
Former friends and colleagues in the local LGBTQ media space remember Aiello as an intrepid reporter who was interested in stories related to the community’s struggle for political and legal equality, as well as environmental justice.
Asked to comment on Aiello for the journalist’s 2015 obituary in the San Francisco Bay Times, BAR news editor Cynthia Laird said: “Mr. Aiello was a dedicated journalist who was always seeking to get to the heart of a story. He was deeply interested in marriage equality, and used his reporting talents to bring to light various campaign elements that the Yes on 8 side was using during that fight.”
Among the tactics used in the campaign to pass Proposition 8, the California initiative that stripped marriage rights from same-sex couples in 2008, was a television ad that warned against the inclusion of LGBT subject matter in public schools. In the ad, a Massachusetts couple explained how their second-grader was taught that a prince can marry another prince—a consequence, warned Yes on 8, of marriage equality in that state. The “real couple,” the Wirthlins, were later flown to California for a bus tour of the state.
Aiello’s reporting for BAR noted the family’s relation to Republican operative and Mormon activist Richard “Dick” Wirthlin, who was involved in the effort to pass California’s Prop 22, the 2000 bill that prohibited same-sex couples from marriage rights. He reported that when they moved into the school district in Massachusetts, the couple was already involved in groups opposed to marriage equality. The Wirthlins seemed intent on creating conflict with the school and drawing public attention to the matter which, considering the family’s political activism, appear to contradict the idea that they are ordinary parents with legitimate grievances. – Karen Ocamb contributed to this story.