Monday, April 4, 2016

Victim or Predator: The Gay Panic Defense

On the evening of December 27th, 2014, staff at the Ascot-Epsom Motel in South Auckland discovered one of their guests, bleeding and disoriented, staggering across the courtyard.  The man's name is Ihaia Gillman-Harris.
His assailants, two teenage boys he'd offered a lift and a room for the night.
But within minutes of checking in to the Ascot, Gillman-Harris was viciously assaulted with a baseball bat.  He died in surgery later the same night from multiple head injuries.

The trial for those teenage boys began today and their defense is a familiar one for members of the LGBT community, and it's a defense that makes my blood boil every time it's trotted out. 

It even has it's own name, the "gay panic defense".

I'm a straight woman, I'll put that out there right now, because it's going to help me make an important point about this case.  Lets imagine that I've murdered someone, another woman, and that woman happens to be lesbian.  The police come and I tell them that I was only acting in self-defense because she was a lesbian, she tried to rape me, and I panicked and killed her.

Ridiculous right?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that women can't be perpetrators of sexual violence, because they absolutely can.  I'm also not saying that women can't rape other women, because they absolutely can.  What I am saying is that if I, as a straight woman, used that defense in a criminal court on a murder charge, I would have to show pretty overwhelming evidence for my claim to slide that defense past a jury. 

But when a man claims that another man tried to rape him, and that's why he resorted to murder, that's somehow a legitimate defense, and one that often needs very little evidence to be upheld.  Here are some examples....

In 2011, South Australian man, Michael John Lindsey, bashed and stabbed an aquaintance, Andrew Negre, to death.  At trial, he claimed he was provoked by Negre's unwanted sexual advances but was found guilty of murder, and sentenced to 23 years in prison.  But in 2015, Lindsey successfully appealed his conviction to the High Court, where he was granted a new trial based on his claim that "gay panic" is a legitimate defense, and that the judge didn't make it clear to the jury just how much provocation could be used as a mitigating factor to murder charges.

Hold on to your koalas, it gets worse.  In the wake of Lindsey's appeal, there were renewed calls to ban the gay panic defense as some other Australian states have done.  Sounds like a good idea right? Not according to the South Australian Law Society, who had this to say in a letter to Legaslative Review Committee...

“It is surprising...that the occasion of the delivery of Lindsey v R has been met with renewed calls for reform concerning the regrettably coined ‘gay panic defence'.  The common law partial defence has a rationale which, when properly explained to the community, would be seen to be acceptable and consistent with social norms.  Importantly, the partial-defence works to avoid an inappropriate murder conviction.” - Rocco Perotta, President of the Law Society (and probably a giant, homophobic douche-canoe)

Australian bigotry at it's finest folks.

In Cook County, Illinois in 2009, 30-year-old Joseph Biedermann stabbed his neighbour Terence Hauser 61 times.  Biedermann claimed self-defense, telling the jury at his murder trial that Hauser had threatened to rape and murder him just hours after the pair had first met in a local bar.  

Biedermann's claims of a violent struggle with Hauser, who he alleged attacked him with a sword, were not backed up by the evidence.  Hauser's apartment, where the murder occurred, showed no signs of such an epic struggle, and many of Hauser's 61 stab wounds were to the back.  

Police said Hauser's death looked more like an unprovoked and brutal slaughter than an attempt to fend off an attack.  Despite this, a jury found Biedermann not guilty, accepting his "gay panic defense" as legitimate, and the vicious murderer who stabbed a single father 61 times walked free.  

This defense has been extended to excuse the murder of transgendered victims too.

In 2015, US Marine, Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton, was arrested for the murder of 26-year-old Filipino woman, Jennifer Laude.  Laude, who was transgendered, was discovered strangled and drowned in a toilet bowl at a hotel in Olongapo City.  Pemberton had met Laude in a nightclub the night before she was found dead, and admitted accompanying her to the hotel for sex.  Pemberton testified that he was not aware Laude was trans, and had "panicked" after discovering she had a penis.  He then claimed that he strangled her, but left her unconscious but alive.  I presume we're expected to believe she drowned herself in the toilet, because that makes soooo much sense.

That last sentence was all sarcasm, in case anyone couldn't tell.

Jennifer Laude

Why is this ridiculous defense still being allowed in our courts? or in ANY court anywhere in the world?

It's 2016, and it's well past time to put the "gay panic defense" in the trashbag of history once and for all.

 Day One of Gillman-Harris Murder Trial

 Law Society Supports "Gay Panic Defense."

Green MP Calls for "Gay Panic Defense" to be Abolished

"Gay Panic Defense" Used to Aquit Illinois Man 

 Marine Claims "Gay Panic Defense" In Murder of Trans Filipino Woman

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