Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Gay Panic Murder At TCU Raises Unanswered Questions

David Hidalgo (l) claims "gay panic" led him to stab Stewart Trese (r) to death.

David Hidalgo (l) claims “gay panic” led him to stab TCU senior marketing student Stewart Trese (r) to death.

Fort Worth, Texas – The roll out of developments surrounding the murder of a 23-year-old Texas Christian University senior at the Grand Marc Apartments leave a host of questions unanswered–both about the so-called “gay panic” his confessed killer claims led him to murder, and the uneasy state of LGBTQ members of the campus community.  This we know so far: the victim, Stewart Trese, a marketing major and Japanese minor at TCU, was stabbed to death in the hallway of the Grand Marc by 21-yar-old David Hidalgo, a “townie” who had known Trese for some months before the fatal “altercation,” according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.  At 9:22 a.m. on February 4, Trese was pronounced dead outside his apartment from multiple stab wounds.  A day later, Hidalgo was taken into custody at John Peter Smith Hospital by Fort Worth Police and charged with murder.  Now in the Mansfield Jail under $100,000 bond pending trial, Hidalgo made the explosive claim in a jailhouse interview with WFAA TV that Trese made sexual advances, drew a knife on him, and threatened his life.

In what amounts to a “gay panic” justification of his actions, Hidalgo claims that Trese called him over to his apartment near the TCU campus “to see something,” and when Stewart met him in the hallway of the Grand Marc outside the apartment, he seized Hidalgo’s buttocks, made sexual demands of him, and drew a pocket knife, threatening to kill Hidalgo if he didn’t give in sexually.  “He pulled out the knife and said, ‘I’m gonna kill you,’ he said, ‘I’m gonna kill you,’ and he came toward me with the knife and I grabbed his hand that the knife was in and I tried to wrestle it out from him,” Hidalgo claimed in the WFAA/Channel 8 interview. “We ended up on the floor and I ended up stabbing him in the chest and in the throat.”   Expressing regret at what he had done, Hidalgo went on to say there was little else he could do because Stewart was so angry at being refused sexually.  “When he pulled that knife on me I was really scared, I thought he was going to kill me,” Hidalgo said. “I really think he was going to.”

Gay media are expressing doubt about Hidalgo’s story.  John Wright of Lone Star Q  isn’t buying Hidalgo’s “gay panic” account on two counts: first, Wright calls any such defense of violence against LGBTQ people “bunk,” and second, to believe that a man in a relatively long-term friendship would suddenly attempt rape at knife-point seems “bizarre.”  More likely, Wright suggests, a romantic relationship had developed between the men, and the hint of drugs makes the friction between them more credible.

The notorious “gay panic defense” has been a staple of heterosexist, homophobic and transphobic legal and public relations tactics for decades in the United States, relying on the gullibility and anti-LGBTQ prejudice of juries and the general public to lessen punishments for defendants perpetrating violence against gay and transgender victims.  But in August 2013, the American Bar Association in its annual convention unanimously supported the demise of “gay panic” and “trans panic” in U.S. courts.  The Journal of the ABA reports:

“The ABA House of Delegates has unanimously passed a resolution urging federal, state, local and territorial governments to pass legislation curtailing the availability and effectiveness of the use of ‘gay panic’ and ‘trans panic’ defenses by criminal defendants. These defense strategies seek to excuse the crimes by saying that the victim’s sexual orientation caused their assailant’s violent reaction to them.”  Speaking prior to the vote, D’Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the National LGBT Bar Association said that such legal tactics were “surprisingly long-lived historical artifacts” reflecting the homophobia and heterosexism prevalent in the past.  She went to say that such defenses were based upon “the notion that LGBT lives are worth less than other lives.” 

Trese had been introduced to Hidalgo approximately 18 months before the killing by a “friend” who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, according to the Star-Telegram.  The two men met at the Altamesa Church of Christ, and volunteered at the church’s related charity program, Neighborhood Needs.  The anonymous friend went on to say that the men became “close,” and that their unequal backgrounds did not seem to hinder their relationship.  While Hidalgo did not have a job or a personal vehicle and grew up literally beside the train tracks, Stewart was the son of Dr. Thomas Trese, D.O., a prominent Fort Worth Neurologist.  Even if their friendship soured over time, it strains credibility to believe that “gay panic” ignited the wrestling match that led to Trese’s grisly murder.

TCU Allies logo

TCU Allies logo

Was Trese a gay man, or same-sex attracted?  His family does not believe so, according to his brother Steve who told the Star-Telegram “Stewart was not that guy. We have the utmost faith in the Fort Worth police and district attorney’s office and the truth will come out.”  Concerning Hidalgo’s motive for making a gay claim against his brother, Steve Trese added, “We believe that somebody in his predicament would do anything to save his skin.”  Trese was not a member of TCU’s LGBT student organization, though he was listed as a member of TCU Allies, a gathering of students, faculty and staff supportive of the equal rights of LGBTQ people.  His sexual orientation remains a mystery. His station in life and his association with evangelical Christian organizations like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Churches of Christ (Non-instrumental) would have encouraged a deeply closeted gay man to remain so to all but a few confidants, lovers, and friends.

Is Hidalgo gay, or gay curious?  Does he harbor the sort of anti-gay feelings that would add fuel to the sort of attack that bears all the hallmarks of an anti-gay hate crime murder?  By his own admission, Hidalgo stabbed Trese five times and cut his throat.  While not being definitive, brutality and bloodiness like this are characteristic of the type of “wet work” carried out by homophobic killers.  But how could he have remained friends for so long with Trese, if indeed Trese was closeted or questioning, were Hidalgo to suffer from deep seated antipathy towards same-sex desire?  Once again, we are faced with a mystery, and with the suggestion that money and drugs may have played a critical part in this case.

David Mack Henderson of Fairness Fort Worth, in liaison with the Fort Worth Police Department’s LGBT contact, communicated with TCU GSA Alumni to say he is working to keep channels open with the police and the LGBTQ community on campus.  Henderson voiced confidence in the FWPD, saying, “I have every confidence that FWPD is taking the murder of Mr. Trese very seriously and will develop the case necessary to prosecute Mr. Hidalgo to the fullest extent of the laws.”  

While Texas Christian University has an active LGBT Gay Student Association and alumni group, the record of the university on same-sex issues is spotty.  There is little encouragement for faculty and staff to come out openly if they are LGBTQ.  The administration’s attitude towards queer concerns is by turns benign and callous, as the unbending decision to bring notoriously anti-gay Chik-Fil-A to campus shows, despite faculty and student unrest about the fast food purveyor.  As is the case in many church-related colleges and universities in the South and Southwest, TCU likes to point to its enlightened, progressive approach to LGBTQ concerns while at the same time refusing to establish and staff an Office of LGBTQ Relations on its campus (something conservative Texas A&M has done since 1996).  The whiff of gay murder and hate crime around campus will probably encourage the policy of denial that TCU has adopted for years.  But hard questions will continue to be asked as the investigation into the brutal murder of one of the university’s prominent marketing seniors proceeds–a murder that certainly suggests  that troubling gay aspects of this case will not be denied for much longer.

February 10, 2014 Posted by | American Bar Association (ABA), anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Fairness Fort Worth, Fort Worth Police Department, gay men, gay panic defense, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Internalized homophobia, LGBTQ, National LGBT Bar Association, Social Justice Advocacy, stabbings, Texas, Texas A&M GLBT Center, Texas Christian University (TCU), transgender persons, transphobia, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Notorious Gay Panic and Trans Panic Legal Defenses Must End, Says American Bar Association

Gwen Araujo's mother, Sylvia Guerrero, cradles her portrait. Thanks to the ABA, the so-called Gay and Trans Panic excuses for violence may one day be a thing of the past.

Gwen Araujo’s mother, Sylvia Guerrero, cradles her portrait. Thanks to the ABA, the so-called Gay and Trans Panic excuses for violence may one day be a thing of the past.

San Francisco, California – Gay Panic and Trans Panic legal defenses must go, says the House of  Delegates of the American Bar Association at their annual meeting this past week.  The delegates voted to follow the lead of California legislation calling for the cessation of excuses for violence against gays, lesbians, and transgender persons allegedly because of fear of homosexuals or the identity of transgender persons, according to eNews Park Forest.  The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the President of the National LGBT Bar Association, D’Arcy Kemnitz, sponsor of the cessation resolution at the ABA convention, called upon lawmakers throughout the United States to frame legislation banning the use of the Gay Panic and Trans Panic defenses, saying, “Legal professionals find no validity in these sham defenses mounted by those who seek to perpetuate discrimination and stereotypes as an excuse for violence.” 

The Resolution, 113A, which had previously been vetted and passed by the ABA’s Criminal Justice Section, says in part that the ABA  “urges federal, state, local and territorial governments to take legislative action to curtail the availability and effectiveness of the ‘gay panic’ and ‘trans panic’ defenses, which seek to partially or completely excuse crimes such as murder and assault on the grounds that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for the defendant’s violent reaction,” according to the report of Gay Star News.  The Resolution goes on to say, “Such legislative action should include requiring courts in any criminal trial or proceeding, upon the request of a party, to instruct the jury not to let bias, sympathy, prejudice, or public opinion influence its decision about the victims, witnesses, or defendants based upon sexual orientation or gender identity; and specifying that neither a non-violent sexual advance, nor the discovery of a person’s sex or gender identity, constitutes legally adequate provocation to mitigate the crime of murder to manslaughter, or to mitigate the severity of any non-capital crime.”

Californians passed their 2006 law banning the use of Gay and Trans Panic defenses in response to the infamous 2002 slaying of transwoman Gwen Araujo of Newark, California by four male assailants who claimed that they panicked in “the heat of the moment” when they discovered Araujo’s biological identity.  The trial uncovered the truth, that both main defendants had sexual relations with Araujo for months prior to the gruesome murder, which they perpetrated by bludgeoning her into unconsciousness with a can of tomatoes and an iron frying pan.  Her attackers finished Araujo off by strangling her with a rope and beating her with a shovel.  Gwen’s murderers then drove her body four hours away from the San Francisco Bay area to bury her in a shallow grave in the Sierra Nevado mountains, where her remains lay undiscovered for several days.  All four defendants were found guilty of the killing, and were sentenced to prison after a series of three trials.  The two main defendants were sentenced to 15 years to life for second degree murder.  The consensus of legal opinion is that the Araujo trials went a far distance toward discrediting the Trans Panic defense for perpetrating violence against LGBTQ people.

In 2009, on what would have been Gwen Araujo’s 25th birthday had she lived, her mother Sylvia Guerrero called upon the American public to commemorate her transgender daughter’s life.  Speaking to the Examiner.com, Ms. Guerrero invited everyone to honor her child though acts of joy and service: “Light a candle, release a balloon, or do a good deed for someone less fortunate than yourself.  Thank you for keeping her memory alive.”  Now, Gwen Amber Rose Araujo has an even more lasting legacy with the ABA’s campaign to end the Trans Panic and Gay Panic excuses for violence in the American legal system forever.  Rest in peace, Sister.

August 15, 2013 Posted by | American Bar Association (ABA), anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, Blame the victim, Bludgeoning, California, gay panic defense, GLBTQ, Gwen Araujo, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, LGBTQ, National LGBT Bar Association, Strangulation, trans-panic defense, transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Judge in Larry King Murder Case Declares Mistrial: Jury Hung

No Justice Yet for Hate Murder Victim Larry King

Chatsworth, Los Angeles, California – In breaking news, the judge in the trial of teen Brandon McInerney for the hate crime murder of bi-racial student Larry King has declared a mistrial. Prosecutors have not yet decided whether they will seek to retry McInerney, now 17 years old, for the murder of his gender variant classmate in 2008.  Steve Rothaus of Gay South Florida picked up the Associated Press report late this afternoon, detailing how the jury could not come to a unanimous verdict in the case.  Nine women and three men on the jury informed Judge Charles Campbell that they were stalemated over whether to find McInerney, who undisputedly shot 15-year-old Larry King to death with a .22 caliber pistol in first period computer class at E.O. Green Middle School in February 2008, guilty of manslaughter, first-degree murder, or second-degree murder.  Seven jurors declared they were in favor of a verdict of voluntary manslaughter, while the other five were split between first- and second-degree murder.

The defense team appears to have scored something of a victory, convincing a majority of the jury that their client was in some sort of “dissociative state” at the time of the killing.  More disturbingly for LGBTQ legal advocacy observers and hate crime activists is the partial success of the “gay panic defense” that Scott Wippert and the defense team denied was a part of their strategy, but which most sure was.  Defense hammered the jury with claims that teen gay student King was somehow responsible for his fate because of their rendition of “bizarre sexualized behavior” and “sexual aggression.”  The gay panic defense, which blames the victim for the crime, has been discredited for years in American courts, but the special circumstances of a youth like McInerney who came from a dysfunctional family background (both his parents were addicts) successfully clouded what was otherwise a clear cut case of first-degree, premeditated murder.

Under California law, McInerney was old enough to be tried as an adult.  Ventura County Prosecutor Maeve Fox argued that since the defendant told at least six people he was going to kill King, premeditation was clearly established. Further, Fox argued that McInerney was a fervent anti-gay boy, influenced by white supremacist and Neo-Nazi skinhead ideology and teachings.  McInerney was in possession of a trove of Nazi items and symbols, as well as white supremacist literature at the time of the murder.

Nonetheless, the mistrial gives the prosecution pause. As commentator Lisa Bloom, a respected attorney, noted on a CNN panel discussing the trial last week, the jury is not supposed to ignore premeditation or be swayed by sympathy for the sad circumstances of a defendant.  “[The gay panic defense] is not an acceptable defense in an American courtroom,”  she said. Bloom went on to assert that no jury would allow a racist to claim that rage over the acts and speech of a black person altered the consciousness of the defendant enough to push him to murder.  What is the prosecution to do in a situation in which the message that a boy was gay was enough to get him killed, and to hang the jury in his slayer’s murder trial?  McInerney killed King.  Now, whether he will face the justice his actions deserve is up in the air–as well as the memory of his victim, Lawrence Fobes “Larry” King.

September 1, 2011 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Blame the victim, California, gay panic defense, gay teens, Gender Variant Youth, GLBTQ, gun violence, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, LGBTQ, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, School and church shootings, Social Justice Advocacy, trans-panic defense, transgender persons | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Teenager Goes On Trial for 1st Degree Murder of Gay Classmate–Finally

Brandon McInerney (l), Lawrence Fobes "Larry" King (r)

San Fernando Valley, California – The notorious execution-style murder of a 15-year-old, mixed race, gender variant student in his computer classroom made national headlines in February 2008–because his alleged murderer was barely 14.  There has been no doubt about the facts of the case. Brandon McInerney allegedly shot his gender non-conforming classmate, Lawrence Fobes “Larry” King in the back of the head while his teacher and dozens of his horrified classmates looked on in disbelief. McInerney had breathed threats against King to other students prior to the shooting, and showed apparent premeditation by bringing his grandfather’s .22 pistol to the E.O. Green Middle School classroom.  What has always been in dispute since the earliest reports of this heinous murder are the circumstances and state of mind that brought McInerney to the point of cold blooded murder.  Students reported that Larry King, who was living at a specialized home for abused and abandoned youth, was blatantly non-conforming in matters of gender and sexual performance.  King dressed in feminine clothing, wore high heels, and used makeup.  He answered the bullying culture of Southern California middle schools with what some have called defiance and others have named authenticity.  Larry King was “out,” and students in the Oxnard school he attended had problems with it.  None had a stronger aversion to King’s being and style than young Brandon McInerney, who displayed irritation and anger around King, and later, when King apparently developed something of a personal attraction to him, decided that extreme violence was the only answer to his rage and fear.  EDGE now reports that opening statements in the long-delayed trial of McInerney began Tuesday in a San Fernando Valley courtroom, rather than in Ventura County where the murder took place three years ago.  McInerney’s attorneys delayed and argued that their client was a juvenile, that the judge was biased, and that McInerney could not get a fair trial in Ventura County.  The defense team failed to keep their client out of court as an adult, and to force the judge to recuse himself or be removed.  But they did convince the court to move the venue of the trial, and by a battery of stalling tactics, to postpone the trial as long as possible so that memories of King’s murder would have the chance to fade.

National media debated the wisdom of trying a 14-year-old from a broken home as an adult, even though California law clearly mandated that a 14-year-old should stand trial as an adult in cases of murder.  Though the Golden State has some of the most progressive laws in the nation protecting LGBTQ residents, the atmosphere in schools throughout the state never has caught up with enlightened legal culture.  Bullying of gender variant youth in elementary, middle, and high schools in California is as rampant as anywhere in the nation, as highly publicized cases like the King-McInerney case demonstrate. King was permitted to come out and live fully as a youth in gender transition. While some gender variant students adopted a cautious demeanor in school, King used his budding femininity as a badge of honor.  Whether he had a genuine crush on McInerney during the Valentine season, or whether his actions and words were meant to make his classmate uncomfortable, we cannot really know. But the brute facts remain.  King is dead. McInerney, who life has been forever changed by this murder, is still alive.

The case will be watched closely by legal experts and LGBTQ youth advocates throughout the United States. If the prosecution succeeds in making the 1st degree murder charge stick, McInerney could serve time in prison until his fifties. If the defense succeeds in minimizing the murder of Larry King, it will be because of a likely combination of delay, genuine reluctance to convict because of the youth of the defendant, and a well-orchestrated defamation of a slain little person with a big gender variant profile, as the Los Angeles Times is already reporting from attorney arguments on the first day of this landmark trial. Unfinished Lives Blog will follow the events of this courtroom drama closely.

July 6, 2011 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Blame the victim, Bullying in schools, California, Character assassination, death threats, gay bashing, gay panic defense, gay teens, gender identity/expression, Gender Variant Youth, GLBTQ, gun violence, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, LGBTQ, Media Issues, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, School and church shootings, Social Justice Advocacy, trans-panic defense, transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hope for 2010: A New Year’s Special Comment

As the old year passes, and with it the old decade, those of us who believe in Justice for LGBTQ people have memories to preserve, work to do, thanks to express, and hope to rekindle.  The Unfinished Lives Project was conceived as a visual and verbal resource for the public to use in the on-going struggle for freedom from violence and fear that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer folk face every day in the United States.  Wordpress tallies show that as of this writing nearly 44,000 have visited this site since its first posting in June 2008: to educate themselves about the slow-rolling holocaust facing members of the sexual minority, to bring the stories of so many casualties of homophobia and heterosexism to light who would otherwise be forgotten, and to steel themselves for the long, difficult, painful work of changing the culture of violence against the different in which we must live.  While countless hours of writing and research have gone into creating and maintaining this web site, that is nothing compared to the stress and loss faced by so many families and loved ones who have experienced the horrors of hate crime murder during these years.  The backstory of this blog has been and continues to be the awe-inspiring courage of the bereaved mothers, fathers, lovers and friends who have been thrust into the harsh glare of activism on behalf of the LGBTQ community because they refuse to allow their loved ones to have died in vain.  We owe them, and you, Dear Reader, our thanks and our continuing labor until Justice comes.  It is to that end we at the Unfinished Lives Project keep telling these grim stories of real people who suffer in America for no other “crime” than being who they are.  The past decade, especially the past year, has seen substantive change–not enough, nor comprehensive enough, to be sure–but real change nonetheless.  Cultural, political, and religious attitudes toward LGBTQ people are changing in this country.  The passage of the James Byrd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the first comprehensive hate crimes law in federal history, is now law.  Convictions under state and federal hate crimes statutes, something conservative law makers and law enforcement officers said would never happen, are occurring already in bellweather states like Colorado and New York.   This trend will no doubt continue as the New Year dawns.  The infamous “gay panic” defense, and its evil twin, the “trans panic” defense are increasingly discredited and ineffective in American courts of law. Religious attitudes have thawed slightly, but the progress is real, if spotty.  Religion and Faith offices and activism, once thought to be the “third rail” of human rights politics, have been established in all the major advocacy organizations that lobby for change.  LGBTQ lives and practices are no longer viewed as criminal by the religious leaders of conscience in the United States, and tolerance toward queer folk in congregational life and leadership is on the rise: the Episcopal Church, the Alliance of Baptists, the United Church of Christ, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America are cases in point.  Homophobia in churches, synagogues, mosques and schools is not going unchallenged in American daily life, and that is encouraging.  ENDA, DADT, and many other legislative initiatives are on the horizon for the new decade.  Marriage Equality, which heretofore has been fought for state-by-state (often attended by an alarming hike in anti-LGBT hate crime violence where the issue is most hotly contested), and now advocates are re-evaluating the tactics and strategies of equality.  There is nothing magic about the passage of the Shepard Act.  Every day, in every region of the nation, LGBTQ people and those mistakenly assumed to be like us, are suffering violence and death, and from our researches at the Unfinished Lives Project, these statistics are increasing alarmingly.  One more life lost is one too many.  Fear is no way to live in the Land of the Free.  So, we who believe in Justice will greet the New Year with resolve.  An African American spiritual lyric testifies, “We Ain’t in No Wise Tired,” and that is providential.  We cannot rest until Justice comes.  And, we are glad to be in the fight for true “peace on earth, goodwill to all,” with you.

December 24, 2009 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bisexual persons, Colorado, DADT, ENDA, gay men, gay panic defense, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, Lesbian women, Marriage Equality, Matthew Shepard Act, Media Issues, military, Mistaken as LGBT, New York, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Politics, Popular Culture, religious intolerance, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, Special Comments, trans-panic defense, transgender persons | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

   

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