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"Gay Panic" Defense Helps Man Avoid Jail Time For Stabbing Neighbor To Death

James Miller's defense argued he killed a neighbor in self-defense after an alleged seduction attempt.

By Eric Shorey

The rarely-used "gay panic" defense helped a Texas musician avoid jail time for killing a neighbor who allegedly tried to seduce him during a jam session.

James Miller, 69, will serve 10 years probation after being sentenced for criminally negligent homicide for the 2015 death of Daniel Spencer, according to KXAN-TV in Austin.

Miller, a former police employee, had originally been charged with murder in September 2015. But he was found not guilty of murder or manslaughter.

As per the decision on Wednesday, Miller will pay $10,000 in fines and serve 100 hours of community service. He will also have an alcohol monitor until the judge deems it unnecessary.

In court, Miller's defense successfully argued he had stabbed Spencer to death after Spencer allegedly attempted to seduce him. The court saw this killing as self-defense.

"It was so uncharacteristic of Mr. Miller that for him to engage in this behavior clearly had to be an act of self-defense,"  said Charlie Baird, Miller's defense attorney, according to KXAN. "We're going to ask the jury to accord him probation and to allow him to return to his family and his home, and to the community."

Prosecutors argued that not only did evidence not match that narrative — Miller was found with no visible injuries or signs of a struggle — but it could have been Miller who came on to Spencer. 

Miller had admitted the killing to police and, in an affidavit, said he was set off by Spencer's alleged pass at him.

"We were playing. 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," Miller said in the affidavit. "We been playing. We're musicians and all that kind of stuff, but I'm not a gay guy. Then it seemed like everything was alright and everything was fine. When I got ready to go — it seemed like (expletive) just started happening."

Miller said his actions were justified because he feared for his life.

“He had height advantage over me, arm length over me, youth over me,” Miller said in court, according to the Austin American-Statesman. “I felt he was going to hurt me.”

LGBTQ activists have been stunned by the success of the defense team's argument, which they have characterized as antiquated and bigoted. 

"It's hard to believe that something like this exists," D'Arcy Kemnitz, the executive director of the LGBT Bar Association, told The Washington Post. "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."

“If there’s a secondary chilling effect, when an individual gets to attack or indeed murder someone and walk away with a slap on the wrist or scot-free, it tells us that we’re still vulnerable,” she added.

The so-called "gay panic" defense, in which a heterosexual claims that sexual advances from a homosexual scared them and led to self-defense, is legal in all states except California and Illinois. LGBTQ activists have been working to address the usage of "gay panic" in courts for decades. An American Bar Association resolution has advised lawyers and lawmakers to "curtail the availability and effectiveness of the ‘gay panic’ and ‘trans panic’ defense.”

[Photo: Austin Police Department]

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