Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Wisconsin Queer Bashing Suspects Face Trial; Gay Panic Excuse Put to Test

PJ's Bar, Oshkosh, scene of brutal Christmas Day queer bashing (Facebook image)

Oshkosh, Wisconsin – Two suspects arrested in the bashing of a gay man outside a gay bar on Christmas Day will go to trial, according to reports from WTAQ News Talk.   Lyall Ziebell and Jacob “Jake” Immel-Rhode, both 20, waived their preliminary hearings on January 5. Ziebell entered no plea, and will face arraignment on January 12. Immel-Rhode pled not guilty to all charges, and is due back in court for a pre-trial conference on February 1. The alleged attackers are charged with battery causing great bodily harm, and burglary.  The battery charge for both men also carried a hate crime modifier, which increases the penalties for the crimes, if found guilty. If the maximum penalty is invoked, each man could serve 23-and-a-half years in prison and face $40,000 in fines.

The police complaint states that Immel-Rhode and Ziebell agreed to give a cigarette to the victim in exchange for a shot of liquor at PJ’s bar on Oregon Street in Oshkosh just before 2 a.m. on Christmas Day.  When the three men came out of the bar to smoke, the attack started almost immediately.  Ziebell, who characterized himself as “very homophobic,” hit the victim so hard he collapsed on a car hood, and then fell to the pavement, where Immel-Rhode set upon him, kicking the helpless man while shouting that he was a “stupid faggot.” The alleged assailants excused their actions because they say the victim “tried to hit on” Ziebell who threw the first punch. The complaint further states that the pair robbed a Mexican market on the way home to Ziebell’s house, stealing money and pre-paid cell phones.

The victim suffered a broken jaw and injury to his brain from the brutal attack, and underwent emergency surgery.  He was then admitted to Intensive Care.  Recently, he was released from the hospital to recuperate at home, and to deal with the emotional trauma of the assault.

The Wisconsin Gazette reports that James Combs, a friend of the victim, has started a petition on Change.org calling attention to the hate crime, and urging Winnebago County Assistant D.A. Adam Levine, Democratic State Senator Jessica King, and others in authority to make sure justice is done in this case, including pursuit of hate crimes charges.  The petition can be accessed by clicking here. Combs told the Gazette, “We really need to draw attention to this kind of thing. People have not really grown accustomed to gay people, and there is still violence and horrible things happening.”  He also said that a fund to help pay the victim’s hospital expenses is being set up.

Among the most important aspects of this case is the gay panic excuse the attackers gave for their violence against a gay man. In the gay panic defense, alleged homophobic assailants rely upon latent negative feelings in the general public to cloud the issue of the crime, and to lessen popular anger at their deeds.  The illogic of the gay panic excuse turns justice on its head: the victim is put under the spotlight, insinuating that he or she was somehow responsible or “had it coming” when violence is perpetrated against them. In its more extreme forms, the innuendo implies that the victims actually went out seeking punishment for their “perverse lifestyle.” When used in court, as by all indications will be done in this case, defense attorneys count on anti-gay prejudice buried in jurors to buy acquittal or a lesser sentence for their clients. Sadly, this has worked in the recent past in American courts, an amazing outcome in the 21st century. James Combs says in the narrative for the Change.org petition,  Hate Crime Tolerance in Wisconsin, “We need to let lawmakers know that Gay Panic Defense will never fly as an excuse, and any jury would agree. Let’s make sure they receive the full sentence.”

The gay panic defense is a discredited, out-of-date, and outworn attempt to sully the character of LGBTQ victims of hate crimes, and to obstruct justice.  No victim deserves physical attacks for being gay or lesbian in the United States of America. Neither should any victim of an anti-gay hate crime face the burden of emotional distress and public shame by having his character brought into question–an irrelevant point in cases such as these. For defendants to present such a “justification” for their actions in an American courtroom should, by itself, increase the penalty of law for false accusation.

January 8, 2012 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, Blame the victim, gay bashing, gay men, gay panic defense, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, LGBTQ, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, Wisconsin | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

%d bloggers like this: