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Beating shatters image of gay-friendly Santa Fe

Six are charged in brutal attack

SANTA FE -- This postcard-pretty tourist town peppered with art galleries, trendy restaurants, and shops selling turquoise jewelry calls itself ''The City Different" in recognition of its quirkiness, diverse population, and progressive politics.

But ever since a 21-year-old man was beaten unconscious by a group of men allegedly yelling antigay slurs, some people are wondering whether the city isn't a little naïve about its self-image.

Amyel Oliveros, a 17-year-old who is gay, said he thinks twice about his route home from school and worries that his plaid scarf might clue in strangers to his sexuality. ''I thought for a while maybe I should act even more straight, but it wasn't me," he said.

Second only to San Francisco in the percentage of same-sex households, Santa Fe, population 62,000, promotes itself as a vacation spot for gays, and a pride celebration fills the Spanish-style plaza each summer. A retirement village slated to open next year trumpets itself as the only such place in the nation catering mainly to gay retirees.

According to the 2000 Census, nearly 2 percent of all the metropolitan area's ''coupled households," married or unmarried, are headed by same-sex couples.

The Feb. 27 attack began when a group of young men confronted James Maestas and his male companion outside a restaurant where they had all just eaten. One of the alleged assailants, Gabriel Maturin, told police that he became offended when one of the two put his hand on Maturin's chest.

Then, outside a motel nearby, Maturin saw the two men kissing, and he and another man started pummeling Maestas, according to Maturin's account. The attackers yelled slurs, witnesses said.

Maestas suffered a broken nose, a concussion, and lung injuries, and contracted pneumonia during his recovery at a hospital. His companion, Joshua Stockham, 24, suffered minor injuries.

Maturin, 20, and five others have been charged, including a 17-year-old who is on probation for raping a 4-year-old boy. All have pleaded not guilty.

Tom Clark, Maturin's lawyer, said, ''I want them tried by the court and the state, not in the court of public opinion, because the court of public opinion is notoriously uninformed."

Prosecutors plan to seek a hate crime enhancement in all six cases, which could add a year to any sentence -- the first time that provision has been used since it became law in 2003, officials said.

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