Texas man gets light sentence after using alleged “gay panic” defense

The Texas justice system is being criticized after an Austin man received an light sentence due to a so-called “gay panic” defense.

James Miller, 69, was convicted of criminally negligent homicide by a jury on April 25. They found Miller guilty of killing his neighbor, musician Daniel Spencer, in an east Austin neighborhood in 2015.

What provoked outrage, however, was the 10 years probation handed down by the jury. Judge Brad Urratia added a maximum of six months jail time, and 100 hours of community service, in addition to $11,000 in restitution.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, “The two [Miller and Spencer] had gathered to drink and play music at Spencer’s home in East Austin, Miller testified. He said Spencer became angry after Miller rejected his sexual advances and moved forward in an aggressive motion while brandishing a drinking glass.” Miller, a former Austin police employee, then used a knife to stab Spencer twice.

According to NBC News, prosecutor Matthew Foye “denied reports that Spencer identified as gay. He said family and friends testified in court that he was heterosexual.”

The “gay panic” defense has a long and dark history in American jurisprudence. The defense is typically used in cases where the defendant is being accused of murder or assault; the accused alleges he or she suffered temporary, murderous derangement due to unwanted sexual advances from a party of the same sex. The defense has been used less frequently in the 21st century, but still appears with some regularity.

In 2009, Joseph Biederman was acquitted of murder using the defense; James Dixon used the same defense in the murder trial of Islan Nettles, a transgender woman whom Dixon killed in New York City.

The defense is banned in Illinois and California, and the American Bar Association has recommended over states do likewise. “Trans panic” defenses are often used to defend attacks on transgender women, who suffer from an unusual high rate of violent assaults.

Miller will also be required to wear an alcohol monitor, until such time as the judge decides it is no longer required.