$11,000 in restitution, 100 hours of community service, and six months in jail sounds like a sentence for property damage or maybe a drunk driving conviction. But it’s the sentence that a jury and judge handed down for the murder of Daniel Spencer, a gay man in Austin, Texas, who was stabbed to death by his neighbor.
It all started when Spencer invited his neighbor, James Miller, over for drinks. No one knows for certain what happened between the two, but Miller claims that he rejected a kiss from Spencer, who then flew into a rage and forced Miller to defend himself with a knife.
Miller called it self-defense. The jury rejected this claim as there was no evidence that Spencer had attacked Miller. But the jury also rejected the conviction of a homicide hate crime sought by the prosecution. They found Miller guilty of criminally negligent homicide, and recommended only the fine and community service as a sentence for the murder. The judge added the six months of jail time, the maximum sentence for this conviction.
Charlie Baird, James Miller’s attorney, claims that Miller’s extreme “self-defense” had nothing to do with Spencer’s sexuality, though he acknowledges there was no evidence of the attack Miller claimed.
It’s the jury’s decision that has LGBT advocates up in arms. Their incredibly light sentencing shows that while they did not believe Miller acted appropriately in self-defense, and that Daniel Spencer was the victim of homicide, his killer did not deserve any real consequences. It feels very much like a “gay panic defense,” as if Spencer got what he deserved because he approached another man in a sexual manner.
The verdict has roused advocates who want the gay panic defense banned from legal proceedings. Legislative proposals have already been submitted in Washington and New Jersey.