Brandon’s case started with the the promise that a bad situation could morph into the opportunity to expose homophobia at its worst and that a meaningful dialogue about bullying could take place around a video that could not be ignored. Brandon’s reward for his courage was to have members of his own community stand by him when the cameras first started rolling, only to turn on him and call him a liar with nothing more than an accusation by one clever lawyer that Brandon had known one or more of his attackers intimately. Less responsible media outlets reported these rumors and yet have NEVER followed up or demanded to see the so called smoking gun, the proof that Brandon was lying about his “prior relationship” with his attackers.
Some time later, a new “defense” surfaced and this time is lined up with that of a “gay panic” defense. Again, with nothing more than rumor, it was reported that Brandon came-on to one of his attackers which triggered the beating. Apparently, that wasn’t getting much traction either, because that “defense” was quickly abandoned for the “beg for the mercy of the court” plea. (Is it any wonder that Brandon doesn’t believe in the sincerity of the apologies he received this week in Court?)
And in yet another twist, unlike I have ever seen in 17 years of practicing law, Brandon again watched while members of the LGBT community again came forward in support of his attackers. They asked for probation and community service for the young men who were now willing to take responsibility for one of the worst cases of bullying ever captured on video. As a criminal defense attorney, I am normally on the other side of these cases. I am normally standing next to young people who have made poor decisions and frequently I am explaining to the Court that prison should be the LAST choice when young people have their whole lives ahead of themselves have screwed up. And while I commend these LGBT leaders for recognizing that alternatives to prison are usually better for everyone in the long run, I have to wonder why they would step in to this case, at this 11th hour to offer such support to Brandon’s attackers.
I believe in the power of redemption. I believe that people can change for the better and I certainly understand that the probationary sentences that these young men were ALREADY ON probably weren’t addressing any of their rehabilitative needs. But, the concept of personal responsibility must play a role here. And it can’t be minimized or overlooked that when this violent attack occurred, at least some of these young men had been before Superior Court Judges already in their short lifetimes, found guilty of serious felonies and already given the opportunity to avoid prison with probated sentences. These young men had already, at a minimum, been afforded the opportunity to prove that they could be trusted to turn their lives around and that prison wasn’t necessary. Rather than taking advantage of their probated sentences, these young men violated probation (which in and of itself normally results in significant prison time) by attacking Brandon White. And yet, this week the wanted just one more chance on probation, this time with the blessing of numerous leaders of the LGBT community.
I hope that the offers of structured assistance and guidance made by supporters for these felons will still be offered upon their release. Organizations like The GA Justice Project have for many years offered guidance, rehabilitative services, and job placement for people that otherwise would have been forgotten by the system, likely to reoffend without any support. And I hope that some of these same offers will find their way to Brandon, who could use a little support from his own community.
Christine A. Koehler
Christine A. Koehler is an openly gay criminal defense attorney who recently served on the Investigative Panel of the State Bar of Georgia and is a founding member of the Georgia Innocence Project. She has acted as an advocate on behalf of Brandon White as his case went through the court system.