Waymon Hudson

"Gay Panic" defense still wins cases

Filed By Waymon Hudson | April 11, 2008 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: gay panic, hate crimes against LGBT people, Michigan

The verdict is in- gay people are just asking for it.

The murderer of Victor Manious, a 62 year old man from Michigan, has been found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum 15 years. Steven Scarborough, 22, faced felony murder charges that carried a life without parole sentence, but used the standard "gay panic" defense, saying he killed him as "a reaction to Manious' sexual advances."

And it worked.

Prosecutors said that Scarborough lured Manious from a gay bar intending to rob him, but ended up murdering him by bludgeoning him with a baseball bat. Manious' body was later found in the trunk of his car. Scarborough spent the days following the murder shopping and traveling with Manious' credit cards.

Scarborough was actually fleeing other criminal charges in Tennessee when he committed the murder in Michigan. His Lawyer, Paul Denenfeld, said:

The jury was aware of his previous record and obviously believed that he was a victim of an assault.


So, Scarborough lured a 62 year old man from a gay bar to rob him, then killed him, stuffed him in a trunk, and went a shopping spree with his credit cards. And Scarborough was the victim??


It is disgusting that "gay panic" is still a viable defense in this country. It seems that even being around a gay person is reason enough to kill them. And if he hits on you, then by all means take matters into your own hands...

It is becoming more and more clear to me that many people think our community is simply asking for it. When a 22 year old man fleeing from the law can bash a 62 year old man's head in and then paint himself as the victim, it sends a clear message that it is completely acceptable to murder LGBT people.

While this isn't a new tactic (people have been using gay and trans panic as a defense for years), it boggles my mind that it can still work. It simply shows that many view our community as somehow subhuman and deserving of whatever comes our way...

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This is just as bad as the "Twinkie defense" that Dan White used when he murdered Harvey Milk and George Moscone.

It would be helpful if the American Bar Association and individual state bar associations would begin to phase in an ethics standard that prohibited the use of the "gay panic" and "transgender panic" defenses. If lawyers could find their law license on the line for utilizing a win-at-all-costs strategy that damages the LGBT (or any other) community in the process, they will be less likely to keep pulling this old chestnut out.

Alternately (and probably more realistically), we continue to educate the people of this nation until judges and jurors alike understand that violence against LGBT people simply because they are LGBT people is no excuse. I have to believe that if that jury had been made up of PFLAG moms and allied friends (or the sentencing judge was one of the above), the attempt to use the gay panic strategy would have backfired on the defense attorneys in a way that would begin to discourage its use in future cases. The only reason it keeps reappearing is because it works and the majority of juries and judges are sympathetic to the idea that unwanted homosexual advances can cause you to do things you normally wouldn't do.

Also, and I'm hesitant to "go there" for obvious reasons, we in the LGBT community do need to take some responsibility in this regard. The fetishizing of straight men in porn and culture has got to stop. As does behavior that is truly inappropriate in any situation--and I refer here to things like sexual harassment. Ignoring or marginalizing bisexual people contributes to situations like this (if we were more accepting of spectrum behavior, straight folks will be, too... leading to less need to defend heterosexual purity at violent and dangerous costs).

It makes me sick.

That's the value of a human life if that human was gay - it's not murder to lure him to your apartment to rob him, hit him with a bat, lock him in a trunk to die while you shop with his credit cards, and then claim some ridiculous story about how someone three times your age overpowered you, knocked you out without any signs of a struggle, and tried to make you TEH GAY.

I feel the need to throw up after hearing about this travesty.

Disgusting ... just disgusting. And this case seems particularly transparent about what probably actually took place.

I always have to wonder about the competence, diligence, or even complicity of the prosecution. How difficult is it to tell the jury, "Even if a sexual come-on did take place, it doesn't justify murder. The defendant had the completely available option of just getting up and leaving. There is no evidence that force or imprisonment was involved."

Killing is justified under law in just a handful of situations, and how hard is it to move that the judge include exact information about this in his jury instructions --- and to appeal if they aren't? (Can an acquittal be appealed? Disclaimer: Obviously I'm not a lawyer --- I just occasionally impersonate one on the internet.)

On the other hand, it is shortsighted for us to view such failures of justice as specific and isolated instances of "homophobia". Truth is that our justice system, which guarantees a trial by jury of our peers, does not guarantee that our peers must be free of prejudice. Our prisons have become warehouses for African-American men partly because of the "he's black and therefore must be guilty" syndrome that, despite our civil rights advances, we have achieved little to eradicate. There is also the "she's a loose woman so how can she be raped" syndrome, and in recent years we've developed the "he's Arab or Muslim and thus he must be a terrorist" syndrome.

I'm not sure that simply outlawing the "gay panic" defense is the answer, because, as we have seen with the repercussions of the three-strikes laws, limiting a jury's options, or a judge's, can have unexpected results. I do think that we could work toward establishing jury instructions that would go far to alert the jury --- even a possibly prejudiced jury --- to the legal inadequacies of a transparent and easily dreamed-up defense tactic such as "gay panic".

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 12, 2008 4:34 AM

One must stop and take a breath here. Obviously, I agree that all gay bashing is disgusting. I observe that this person (after googling Victor Manius) was not only fleeing charges in Tennessee he further fled Michigan and was arrested by the FBI in Texas. So you have interstate flight to avoid prosecution twice plus pending charges in Tennessee.

It would appear that Steven still has a lot of explaining to do, and time to serve, in addition to the one sentence. From the TV and radio coverage I downloaded his own room mate referred to him as a guy who "loved to fight and loved to steal." In that I am sure he had to use a public defender it is amazing that he did this well, but in the long run he will spend considerably over 15 years as it appears he would be incapable of serving "good time," and there have to be additional court proceedings to come.

Now my caveat to this story would be my brief acquaintance with Alan Shalleck the now deceased "Curious George" author who was killed by two men in 2006. Alan was 76, liked rough trade, liked to be "roughed up," in sex play, enjoyed pain, and had been sexually active with his killers on at least one previous occasion.

Alan had worked with me briefly as a co employee in an art gallery and the gallery director fired him after a week. It was right around New Years and on New Years Eve I and my partner took him out for dinner. It would be fair to say I felt sorry for his situation, but after I discovered his tastes I put any future social relationship with him on the back burner.

He came to our home for drinks before dinner, and we stopped at what would become the murder site after dinner, where we were treated to too much information. As neither three ways or infliction of pain are of interest to myself or my partner it was a brief stay. The case of the aftermath is public information. The killers were caught using Alan's credit cards.

Always, in my life, I have been very conscious of never knowing everything or at least feeling as though I do not know enough. But I think we all know this much: Yes, there are younger men who prefer older men, and that is fine. There are older men, who definitely desire the company of younger men, and that is fine. In cases like this one should we not also look inward and speak to our own community about being logical and careful? I am not suggesting that one should not ever decide to privately couple with someone on first meeting, but I am suggesting that the victim here was probably planning on paying for a good time. It was an opportunity to be disgusted with lack of innocence of the victim that fed into the prejudices of the jury.

This case is not the equivalent of a GLBTQ person walking down the street and being harassed or threatened. It is not a workplace, accommodation, or equal pay for equal work situation. A "John" was rolled by his violent prostitute (who had entrapped him) and the jury basically reacted with "a pox on both your houses." Yes, they hated the gay victim, but he also had the opportunity to say to his killer: "Look, give me your phone number and I'll call you sometime, we can have a cup of coffee." I guarantee that Victor would be alive today if he had been that smart or discriminating.

Please do not think that I am just blaming the victim. We have a responsibility to ourselves to be careful. This is even truer in an oppressive society. Just as friend AJ has mentioned above we are not assured EVEN an intelligent, impartial jury, but we do have a responsibility always of being our own best advocate in life.

Let me say that I find the direction of some of these comments a bit disturbing.

I fail to see how one can even begin to go down the road to blaming this man for his death. He was the target of a professional criminal, who decided to go further and smash his head in.

The fact his own lawyer said that Scarborough was the victim in this should send up huge red flags. The defense of a murder was that “gay people make you uncomfortable, so it's okay to murder them.” That’s not okay.

I also don't buy into the idea that "he'll serve more time for other things". That's not the issue. Again it is that he is not being held accountable to the inexcusable taking of a life.

I do agree that the justice system is completely broken and that this is but one HUGE fault. As AJ said, there are biases against women, minorities, different religions, everything.

Again, I would just caution against going down the road that this man was somehow asking for his murder. It is the same disturbing line of thinking that blames women that "dress too provocative" for being raped, etc. Blaming the victim for senseless violence is never the answer.

In cases like this one should we not also look inward and speak to our own community about being logical and careful?

I think we already do. But with someone who is very consciously out to do no good, sometimes, there is no "careful enough." This person was consciously out to victimize someone, probably played all the right signals -- con men become successful by their ability to deceive.

No, this has to rest squarely on Scarborough, who planned out a robbery, expected there to be violence and then proceeded to commit murder.

I am ashamed as a human being that the "gay panic" turkey still flies.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | April 12, 2008 10:51 AM

It seems that even in our own community that we give some credence to the "gay panic" defense. it is sad to see that even we think that there are situations were we deserve what we get.

It should not be a murderous offense to like rough sex or use the services of prostitutes. Scarborough was a thief who committed a murder. He should not be able to scream "the gay came on to me" and get away with murder.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 12, 2008 12:00 PM

I believe that I said clearly: "Please do not think that I am just blaming the victim." The action was awful, but seeking out the immediate sexual company of a stranger barfly 41 years your junior is, shall we say, unwise, tacky, exploitive and creepy.

Criminals seeking a "crime of opportunity" are looking for whatever is most convenient and least complicated. They are lazy, not great thinkers, and usually have not thought through their options to the end. They have usually had dysfunctional lives and personal development. I doubt this young drunk had any great plan at all. One of the reasons they are caught so easily is their stupid actions after the fact of their crime of the moment. Ask any jury specialist, you need to have a sympathetic victim to accompany a guilty criminal to get a maximum conviction.

When you pay for sex you are never perceived as a sympathetic victim if it comes back foul on you. A lawyer for the defense will say anything to defend his client inflammatory, true, or not. No one deserves to die violently, but had he been logical and careful instead of putting himself in a vulnerable position he would not have been a victim. It remains our individual responsibility to act in a respectful manner toward one another and prostitution is not among the actions I can defend.

Just as our absolute right of "free speech" does not extend to endangering others, our right to personal safety and civil liberties should not extend to selective law breaking or abuse of another's situation on our own part. A sixty-two year old man should have both the experience to foresee this danger and the "heart" not to exploit someone else.

I reiterate that this is not a GLBTQ issue that survives the litmus test of equal rights when compared to Marriage equality, tax equality, child protective issues, inheritance, rights of accommodation, work place issues, or equal pay for equal work.

I would be happy if you would consider my personal opinions not as a suggestion that "he deserved what happened to him" but as an explanation of the reaction to what happened to him. He did not deserve to die, but our younger brothers and sisters do not deserve to be exploited either.


Just because you told us to believe you when you claimed to not blame the victim does not require us to do so, nor does it mean you aren't.

So don't be shocked when we call your bullshit what it is. If you don't want to be held accountable for your idiotic statements, don't make them.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 12, 2008 11:21 PM

Dearest Damian,

I'm sorry you missed that class in grammer school when it was explained to you that there were consequences for bad choices and bad manners... It is a bad choice always to exploit another person and then vicitimise them further by calling them a "hustler." There would be no male or female prostitutes if there were not people willing to patronize them.

I am sorry that you consider my statements idotic in that they are forsquare for Marriage Equality,
tax equality, child protective issues, inheritance, equal accomodation, work place and equal pay for equal work. If we could work to achieve just those things greater fairness in the courts would follow.

Waymon has posted a heartfelt outcry bemoaning unfairness and prejudice in the legal process. The legal process in most places (in the US and even more so in other places in the world) is fundamentally unfair as friend AJ pointed out above. A posting like this one is a great opportunity to fall into an "ain't it awful" mode instead of seeking to think about issues and how we can all best live successfully.

I mentioned Alan Shalleck who was killed with extreme violence in his own small home. Any suggestion that I felt anyone deserved to die is wrong, but people do die and injure themselves from making thoughtless, unconsidered mistakes. Hence my statement "logical and careful" Are we discussing utopia or reality? Am I required to suspend my perception of reality to comment?

Or if I can state it in a way you would understand Damian:

"You'll never get that one past the Jury!"
Law & Order

"You don't see 'stupid' written on my forehead do you?"
Judge Judy

Gay Panic Defense. I don't know the facts of that case other than what's reported in the press but each case must be judged individually. It's 1 thing to go out & beat up people who are minding their own business & not bothering you, but it's another thing to hit or even kill some1 as a result of provocation.

If a homosexual man harasses another man in a public restroom & the man reacts by punching the homo in the nose, then I don't sympathize with him. There's a time & place for everything & the bathroom is not the place for propositions. If a male janitor propositioned a woman in the public restroom, he would go to jail which he should. Most people wouldn't sympathize with him if the woman beat him up.

Yet why the empathy over a homosexual man who gets beaten up after he harasses another man in the public restroom. The bathroom is the place to use the toilet & wash up. Also if a homosexual touches another man's groin against his will & the man reacts by beating him up or even killing him, then why it's done is comprehensible to me. Now whether it's self-defense will be a topic for the jury, but the fact that the homosexual 1st touched the man against his will is abuse.

The cases are just more complex & it's my view that homos are sometimes to blame for 'homophobic' violence if they were harassing & provoking their attacker.