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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

'Fundie panic'

"Sure I knocked him down, beat him senseless, stabbed him 37 times and then went home and got my gun and shoot him a few more times, your honor. But there were extenuating circumstances. He propositioned me and, being a God-fearin', heterosexual who was once touched inappropriately in my tender youth by one of those types, I just had to defend myself against his unnatural sexual advances!"

That, in a nutshell, is the "gay panic" defense. It's been used as a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card for gay bashers who get so carried away with their bashing that it results the death of the bashee.

Probably the most famous panic defense was used in the trial of the two worthless, white-trash scumbags who tied Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard to a fence just outside of Laramie, pistol-whipped him, and left him to die on the high, cold prairie. The two defendants claimed Shepard had propositioned them ... so to protect their vulnerable masculinity, they just had to rough him up and leave him to die bleeding and lashed to a fence on a cold October night. The judge in that case slapped that defense down. Hard! "The defense is, in effect, either a temporary insanity defense or a diminished capacity defense, such as irresistible impulse, which are not allowed in Wyoming, because they do not fit within the statutory insanity defense construct," Judge Barton Voigt told defense attorneys.

More recently the trial of the young men accused of murdering transgender teen Gwen Araujo in California resulted in a reject of a "trans panic" defense in convicting two of the scumbags accused of beating Araujo to death. (The jury was unable to reach a verdict in the case of a third person charged in her death.)

Araujo was born a boy named Edward but grew up to believe her true identity was female. She met the defendants, all 25, in late summer 2002 and they became friends. Two of them had sexual encounters with Araujo on separate occasions and grew suspicious of her gender after comparing notes, according to a fourth member of the group who was allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter in exchange for testifying.

The defense tried to frame the case in terms of blaming the victim for evoking her murderers' rage by deceiving them of her true gender. That argument was flatly rejected, according to The San Francisco Chronicle:

The jury that convicted two men of second-degree murder in the killing of Newark transgender teenager Gwen Araujo flatly rejected defense arguments that it was a case of manslaughter, a San Francisco lawyer who served on the panel said Tuesday.

An average person would not have resorted to murder upon discovering that Araujo, 17, was biologically male, Max Stern, 38, of Piedmont, said in an interview with The Chronicle.

"The community standard is not and cannot be that killing is something a reasonable person would have done that night," Stern said.

Stern, a civil litigator, said the eight-man, four-woman jury concluded that Jose Merel and Michael Magidson, both 25, had murdered Araujo in October 2002, rejecting defense arguments that at most they were guilty of manslaughter committed in the heat of passion caused by Araujo's sexual deception. Both men had sex with Araujo before the night she was killed.

So it looks like the "gay panic" defense is on its way out, right? Don't count on it. In some cases, it still works. Take, for example, this recent case out of California, reported by the Associated Press:

A Fresno man who pleaded guilty to stabbing another man to death was suffering from "gay panic," his lawyers argued before a judge, who gave the defendant the minimum sentence - four years in jail.

Estanislao Martinez admitted stabbing Joel Robles 20 times after finding out the victim, who he had brought home, was not a woman, but a cross-dressing man.

On Wednesday, a Fresno County Superior Court judge handed down the sentence, which gay and lesbian activists said was too light, and didn't fit the crime.

"If I just stole money from you, I'd serve more time than this person did for stabbing someone 20 times," said Charlotte Jenks, executive director of the Central California Pride Network.

Martinez pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter for killing Robles last August. After stabbing the victim, he jumped out of an apartment window, and was found wandering naked along Highway 41, according to court testimony.

Martinez's attorneys argued in Fresno County Superior Court their client panicked and became enraged when he found out Robles was a transvestite.

Legal experts said using the "gay panic" defense helped reduce the sentence in this case.

"I think it is because most people, when they're going to have a relationship with someone, expect it to be the opposite sex. I think when you find out it's not, all kinds of things run through your mind," said defense expert Ernest Kinney.

So the lesson is simple: If you want to murder a gay man or a lesbian or a transgender, you can roll the dice with a "panic" defense by throwing yourself on the mercy of the court and claiming you were so enraged by an affront to your masculinity that you just had to kill the offender as a matter of personal justice. It might work. Or it might not.

Still, the courts have a long way to go in understanding the utter absurdity of a gay panic defense.

Perhaps a straight female friend of mine summed it up best: "Gay panic? Oh, please! Where's my panic defense? Can I claim 'obnoxious drunk panic' if some guy I don't like hits on me at a bar and I blow his pathetic ass away?"

That got me thinking. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, so I'm proposing a "fundie panic" defense for LGBTs who have grown tired of the continual bashings from the religious reich.

Next time you're confronted by a homophobe quoting scripture, don't turn the other cheek. Blow the s.o.b. away and then claim that the ongoing spiritual abuse of LGBT persons at the hands of the alleged "Christians" who justify their own prejudices by cherry-picking a handful of Bible verses pushed you over the edge.

Sure, it's a crap-shoot whether it will work or not in court. But as long as the homophobes of the world can claim "gay panic" as justification of killing us, we should be able to use "fundie panic" as a defense when we strike back at them.