AUSTIN, TX — Attorneys for a Texas musician on trial for fatally stabbing his neighbor reportedly cited “gay panic” to successfully get their client a reduced sentence.
On Tuesday, Austin resident James Miller, 69, was found not guilty of murder in the 2015 death of Daniel Spencer, 32. The jury did, however, convict Miller of criminally negligent homicide and recommended he get 10 years of probation.
Judge Brad Urrutia, forced to go by the jury’s decision, added the maximum allowable six-month jail sentence and ordered Miller to pay nearly $11,000 in restitution to Spencer’s family.
Miller, who is also a former Austin Police employee, has always admitted to stabbing Spencer to death. He says he acted after the younger man made a sexual pass at him while they were drinking and playing music. According to Miller:
“We were doing the good music. We were playing back and forth and everything and I just let him know — Hey, I’m not gay. We’re musicians and all that kind of stuff, but I’m not a gay guy. Then it seemed like everything was all right and everything was fine. When I got ready to go — it seemed like s—t just started happening … I felt he was going to hurt me.”
Based on that account, Miller’s attorneys apparently persuaded the jury that their client took Spencer’s life in self-defense.
The “gay panic” defense strategy rarely comes up these days, but it remains legal in most U.S. states and has been used to win cases in nearly half of them. Following the Miller verdict, D’Arcy Kemnitz, the Executive Director of the LGBT Bar Association, told the press:
“It’s hard to believe that something like this exists. This is something from the very darkest of ages, based on the idea that if a gay guy hits on a straight guy, then the straight guy gets to do whatever he wants to do to him, including a homicide.”
In 2014, the American Bar Association called for banning the “gay panic” defense. California outlawed it that same year; Illinois followed suit in 2017. An active movement is presently afoot to legally eliminate the strategy in Texas.
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Main photo: James Miller [Austin Police Department]