Sacramento, California – The Golden State has outlawed the notorious “gay panic defense” as an excuse for violence against the sexual minority. Defendants in California can no longer claim their deeds of physical harm against gay and transgender victims were triggered by alarm at a person’s sexual orientation or gender expression. Governor Jerry Brown signed the legislation into law on September 27.
As Gay Star News reports, Rick Zbur, Equality California Executive Director, said in a statement to the press on Sunday, “The ‘panic defense’ is a homophobic and transphobic ploy that blames the victims of horrific acts of violence for the crimes committed against them.” Zbur went on to commend Governor Brown for signing the bill making this infamous legal dodge based on fear illegal: “[Such a ploy] has no place in California’s legal system, and we applaud Gov. Brown for signing this groundbreaking, first-in-the-nation legislation.”
The law, according to California Legislative Information, entitled “AB-2501 Voluntary manslaughter,” now bans the excuse from use in California courts that “the victim made an unwanted non-forcible romantic or sexual advance towards the defendant” or “the defendant and victim dated or had a romantic or sexual relationship.”
Some defendants in horrendous cases of physical violence against transgender or gay/lesbian victims succeeded in playing upon the fears and latent biases of juries with the gay panic defense, and winning lesser sentences and penalties from the courts as a result. The most widely covered California case in which the gay panic defense was effective in reducing a sentence was the execution-style gunshot murder of teen ager Larry Fobes King of Oxnard by his teen age classmate, Brandon McInerney. In the 2011 trial, defense attorneys argued that the real offender was the murdered King, who allegedly flirted with McInerney, a youth who had been deeply influenced by Neo-Nazi ideologies and prejudices. The court reduced McInerney’s charges to second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter after trying him as a juvenile, in contravention of California law that clearly mandated McInterney, though a teen, must be tried as an adult because of the heinous nature of the crime, and the premeditation exhibited in King’s execution in their morning computer classroom. King was, of course, unable to defend himself against the charges and allegations made by defense attorneys, since he was dead and buried. Because of a plea bargain deal, McInerney received a 21-year sentence instead of a longer, more appropriate term, solely because of the gay panic defense.
Reflecting on the King/McInerney case, SF Weekly carried an op-ed article arguing that “It’s a heinous defense tactic that banks on a judge or jury’s own homophobia, apportioning some blame onto victims in order to get a murder charge downgraded to manslaughter. Leaning on a ‘heat of passion’ line of thinking deliberately turns a trial into something out of a pulp novel. Gay panic benefits from anti-LGBT bias, and adds to it as well, by dredging up ancient stereotypes of gays as sexual predators who can’t be trusted not to curb their appetites.”
Now, such legal queer-baiting is out of bounds in California and has become a model for other states to emulate.
“I have to step up now, like [Juan] did,” Sergio said to KESQ. Juan Ceballos was a well-regarded, happy person who worked hard to help out his mother and four siblings. He had worked in the agricultural fields to pay personal bills and help support his family, but currently was working two jobs to make ends meet: at a gas station and a Pizza Hut. Upon hearing the news of Ramirez’s arrest, Sergio said, “If he is the one who killed [Juan], I hope they keep him off the street so that no other family will have to go through the pain we are.” When asked about how someone could kill another person because of his sexual orientation, Sergio said wiping away tears, “If that is the reason [Ramirez] did that to him, I don’t even know why.” Speaking with KMIR NBC News, Sergio said that his brother’s killer was “stupid” to do such a thing because of sexuality. “[Juan] was more like a father, not as a brother, he was head of the house, he was our support,” said Sergio. “He said he was looking for happiness in a world full of evil,” Sergio continued, “maybe he was right. The world is full of evil, and I don’t know why they ever did this to him. He was our guide. Everything we have now we owe to him. I’m going to continue with all of this, but now I’m going to have to do this without him,” Sergio concluded.
Juan’s mother, Maria Teresa Mendez, said, her son was “a happy person who tried to guide his siblings to do good in life. I expect justice for the person who did this.”
Infamous Lesbian Murder Case Cracked in Texas: Alleged Shooter Arrested After Two-Year Investigation
Portland, Texas – Nearly two years after teenage lesbian lovers were abducted and shot on a steep grassy hillside in this South Texas coastal town, a 27-year-old suspect has finally been arrested, according to Portland, Texas law enforcement authorities. David Malcolm Strickland was arrested Friday and charged with the capital murder of Mollie Olgin, 19 at the time of the shooting, and for the aggravated assault with a deadly weapon of Kristene Chapa, 18, whom he allegedly shot in the head at the same time. Chapa survived, though the damage to the left side of her brain left her unable to walk, sit, or stand. Only with years of therapy and surgery has Chapa been able to reacquire her balance and mobility. In addition to these charges, the shooter has been charged with aggravated sexual assault. Details are still emerging from the investigation, and further charges may be brought, according to authorities. Strickland’s wife, Laura Kimberly, 23, has also been detained by Portland Police, and faces charges of tampering with evidence.
“I hope that it gives [the victims, their families, and community members] some closure knowing that this person is taken off the street,” Portland Police Chief Gary Giles said to NBC News. “It is one day before the two-year anniversary. We’ve been working very hard to make sure we get him as soon as possible. A series of fortunate events has led us to this point and I’m just very happy that we could help in — at least at this point — in bringing him to justice.”
Strickland was apprehended in the Helotes suburb of San Antonio on Friday by Texas Rangers and U.S. Marshals. Texas Rangers, U.S. Marshals, and Portland Police officers took Strickland’s wife into custody. Robert R. Almonte, U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Texas told NBC News, “My sympathies and condolences to the victims and their families who had to endure this wicked act of violence. [Strickland] is a stone cold killer who thought he got away with murder, but will finally pay for his crime.”
The reconstructed murder event that took place in Portland remains chilling, even after two years. Chapa, now 20 years old, said she went with Olgin on Friday night, June 23, 2012 to Violet Andrews Park, to see where Olgin had been baptized. The suspect forced the teenagers at gun point down a steep incline where he bound them, sexually assaulted them, and shot them both, leaving them to die. A couple out bird watching the next morning discovered the victims. Olgin had died of her wounds, but Chapa, who had clawed her way out of the sharp, thorny brush, survived, and was rushed to a medical center for emergency surgery. Chapa returned to the scene of the crime to assist investigators. She recounted to a reporter how difficult it was for her to go back to the place where her lover died so cruelly. “I felt every cut, every thorn go through my hand,” she said of the brush she fought to get out of, pointing to the scars still plainly visible on her arms. “I kept thinking, ‘I’ve got to get help.’”
Sergeant Roland Chavez of the Portland Police Department discussed the investigation with reporters. DNA evidence from finger prints around the crime scene initially belonged to over 250 suspects, Chavez said. Then the slow process of singling out the shooter had to go step-by-step. Investigators wanted to make sure they had the right man before making the arrest, else they feared Chapa would only be victimized again by a false ID. The shooter used a .45 caliber handgun on the teenagers, sometime between 11:30 p.m. and midnight on Friday, June 23, 2012. The teenagers had no prior knowledge of their attacker, which complicated the case, making it even seem more brutal and bizarre. Neither did the suspect have a previous criminal record, providing officers another hurdle to overcome. Chavez speculated that the shooter may have fantasized about such a crime long before the actual event, and worked himself up to doing it over time. The birdwatching couple who discovered Olgin and Chapa stumbled across the gruesome scene at about 8:30 a.m. the next day.
Authorities are still at a loss to explain the motive for the crime at this point. They have consistently ruled out anti-lesbian hatred as a motive, but the suspicion that homophobia and certainly heterosexism may have played a part in targeting the couple just won’t go away. Hate crimes against women are particularly difficult to sort out, since homophobia is so often a weapon of sexism.
Chapa still struggles to open and close her left hand. The bullet destroyed the area of her brain controlling motion on her left side. Her wounds left her an invalid, much like a stroke victim. Hard work, support, and courage are paying off. Though she will never regain total mobility, Chapa told reporters that she knows she will almost get there, if she just keeps up the struggle. Worse for her is the loss of her girlfriend, Mollie Olgin. “Every day I think about her,” she said of Olgin. “I pray for her, just for her to watch over me.” Since the attack, Chapa has reached out to other victims of gun violence and paralysis, like the families devastated by the Newtown School shooting in Connecticut. “I opened up myself to them and just told them how my story is similar, I just put my feelings in there,” she said to NBC News, also saying that she hopes “to meet more victims who have been shot because we relate. I’m pretty sure we’ve been through a lot of the same things and have felt the same ways.”
She and her parents are still appealing to the public to help fund Chapa’s rehabilitation, care, and recovery. Her family has exhausted their resources, and though a good deal of money has been donated these past two years, it hasn’t been enough. Chapa says that she and her folks are “pretty much alone” in the effort to finance her health care. The funding site originally set up to assist with Chapa’s care has been discontinued without public explanation.
After a news conference arranged by the Portland Police Department to announce Strickland’s arrest, Chapa reflected on her feelings. Though she told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times she felt safer now that the suspect was in custody, the pain and loss are still there for her. “It will never take back the pain and hurt he did to our families. And it won’t bring Mollie back,” she said. “Right now for both our families this is very hard.”
San Patricio District Attorney Michael Welborn believes they have their man. “We feel we have a very strong case to put forth,” he said. “We fully believe that we are going to bring justice to these two young ladies and their families.”
Outbreak of Anti-Gay Attacks in Brooklyn and Queens, New York Continues Trend of Homophobic Violence
Brooklyn, New York – Since Sunday of last week, there have been two anti-gay bias attacks reported in Brooklyn, and another hate crime assault in Queens, according to various news sources. On Wednesday night, openly gay Kevin Kiadii, a 25-year-old freelance makeup artist and a male friend were assaulted in Prospect Park, CBS 2 reports. Kiadii, notable for lodging a sexual misconduct suit against ex-Elmo voice artist, Kevin Clash (see NewsOne story), was randomly chosen for harassment and assault by a group of five teens who were allegedly drunk and/or high. When the most aggressive of the teenagers, the one also displaying the most intoxication, confronted Kiadii with homophobic slurs, the gay man offered the youth a soda as an attempt to diffuse the situation. Undeterred, the assailant took a “fighting stance,” in Kiadii’s words, and when Kiadii told him to back off, the youth jumped at Kiadii and said “‘I’m going to [expletive] you up’ and do this and ‘you F and [expletive].'” Kiadii took a perfume bottle from his bag and wielded it like a can of pepper spray to back off his attackers. “One of the dudes tried to kick me in the face, but just missed and he got me in my shoulder,” Kiadii said. Kiadii managed to get off a 911 call to police, handed his phone to a bystander, and wrestled with his main attacker, who left Kiadii with an injured hand, cuts and bruises. Speaking to the New York Post, Kiadii said his ploy with the spray bottle of perfume may have prevented something much worse from happening to him. “If it wasn’t for my Dior bottle, I’d be in so much damage,” he said.
The police responded quickly, arresting four youths ranged in age from 13 to 18 years of age, and a fifth suspect who is 21. Charges have been filed against the teens and the 21-year-old for harassment as a hate crime, and the prime assailant faces charges of aggravated assault as a hate crime, according to The Advocate. Expressing his appreciation for the swift action of the police, Kiadii is thankful that he was not more seriously hurt. Still, the assault has left him shaken but determined to broadcast what he had to face, so that others will not have to endure an anti-gay attack like his. “I’m appalled. I’m in awe,” Kiadii told CBS 2. “I just really want my story told because I know there a lot of people in the city who deal with stuff like this.”
Police are also searching for an unidentified Brooklyn suspect who punched a 27-year-old gay man twice in the face on the J Train at approximately 11:45 p.m. last Sunday, May 26. The assailant hurled anti-gay slurs at his victim as he carried out the attack, according to DNAinfo. The suspect fled out the back of the subway car to escape arrest. Police described the suspect as a man in his mid-to-late-20s, 6 feet tall, with dark hair tied in a bun. He was last seen wearing a blue denim jacket, police said. The New York Police Department Hate Crimes Task Force is carrying out the investigation. The subway assault and investigation were announced by the New York Police Department on Friday of this week. Also reported this week was an earlier bias-related attack upon a woman in Queens on March 17 of this year. Police say that the suspect approached a 49-year-old woman, cursed her with homophobic epithets, and punched her in the face before fleeing the scene. He is described as between the ages of 20 and 25, five feet four inches tall, 140 pounds, with brown eyes and black hair. At the time of the assault, the attacker was wearing a small mustache. The suspect reportedly has been sighted in the area of the 115th Police Precinct. No explanation has been given for the lateness of the report on the Queens attack as of this report.
Anti-gay violence is spiking alarmingly throughout New York City. Better than 30 incidents of anti-LGBT hate crimes have been reported this year, one of them a fatal shooting, easily doubling last year’s statistics for anti-gay attacks during the same time period.
“We are committed to bringing whoever was responsible to justice, ensuring the safety of our people, and caring for those who have been wounded. As we do when confronted by moments of darkness and challenge, we must now come together as one American family. All of us must have the people of Aurora in our thoughts and prayers as they confront the loss of family, friends, and neighbors, and we must stand together with them in the challenging hours and days to come.” ~ President Barack Obama
We at the Unfinished Lives Project join with Americans everywhere in support and solidarity for the families and loved ones of the fallen in Aurora, Colorado.
According to her brother, Hilario Chapa, Kristene is now in rehab and is “doing awesome.” NBC Latino reports that Hilario, a tech sergeant in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, is astounded at the progress his little sister has made since someone attempted to kill her with a high caliber hand gun, and left her for dead in the tall grass of the state park. Hilario relates that in the last days of her hospital care, friends were allowed to visit her, and “she lit up” when she saw them. Kristene faces a long medical recovery, and just as challenging a recovery from the loss of her girlfriend, Mollie. “She’s in neurological rehab, getting her speech and her way of thinking better,” Hilario told NBC Latino. “She also is in physical therapy to help strengthen her left side and mental therapy as well.”
Initially reluctant to let Kristene know that Mollie had not survived the attack, the family finally let her know that Mollie was dead. Police specialists and Mollie’s family were present to help break the news to Kristene. “With that support group we passed the info to my little sister,” Hilario said. “She was brokenhearted, very upset.” Hilario went on to say how difficult it was to know how to comfort his sister. “They told us you have to let her cry. I didn’t want to tell her not to cry. But Mollie’s father (Mario) is a very good man, considering he lost his daughter.” Grateful for Mr. Olgin’s support for his sister, Hilario says, “He comes to visit her and when he does she gets emotional but he is supporting her. He wants to go visit her in rehab.”
Portland Police released the information that Kristene was the previously unidentified eyewitness who aided them and the Texas Rangers in creating both the first and second renderings of the attacker’s likeness. She was reportedly eager to help authorities apprehend the person who killed Mollie. The suspect is a 5-feet-8-inches tall, 14o pound Anglo male, with brown hair and a scruffy beard. Kristene’s assistance with the sketch has prompted great public interest in finding the man who shattered the Portland community’s peace of mind, and set the South Texas LGBTQ community on guard against a possible hate crime. Police authorities have repeatedly said that the attack did not appear random, but they have declined so far to support an anti-gay hate crime motive for the shooting. According to friends and family, Kristene and Mollie had been in a five-month love relationship at the time of the assault.