Metro Weekly

Texas man uses “gay panic” defense to avoid jail time for killing neighbor

James Miller claimed he stabbed his neighbor after unwanted sexual advances

Austin Courthouse — Photo: Chris Vreeland / Flickr

A man escaped both a murder charge and prison on Thursday after he successfully used the “gay panic” defense to justify stabbing his neighbor to death.

James Miller was charged with criminally negligent homicide and will serve ten years probation with the potential of six months of jail time for killing his neighbor, Daniel Spencer, in east Austin in 2015.

The judge also is requiring Miller to pay over 10,000 dollars in restitution to Spencer’s family, wear an alcohol monitoring device for at least one year and complete 100 hours of community service.

The defense’s argument was that Spencer allegedly came on to Miller and refused to take no for an answer, which led to the defendant stabbing his neighbor in self defense.

Defense attorney Charlie Baird told NBC4 that he’d hoped Miller would get no punishment for stabbing his neighbor. 

“We were disappointed with the verdict yesterday, when he was convicted of criminally negligent homicide,” Baird said. “We thought that he should have been acquitted on the basis of self-defense.”

Despite this, Baird said that the jury’s choice to give Miller probation showed that they also see Miller as harmless.

“The jury, they agreed with us and thought that Mr. Miller was no threat to the community or to society at large,” he said, “and, therefore, they decided to place him on community supervision.”

However, Prosecutor Matthew Foye argued the opposite, saying that the jury choosing to not acquit Miller on self defense and requesting the maximum of each punishment shows they do not believe he is innocent.

“It establishes that Daniel Spencer was a victim of a senseless killing by the defendant and he did not do anything to bring this upon himself,” Foye said. “Since the defense’s strategy was to argue self-defense, I think the jury’s verdict makes it clear that they did not believe it was self-defense.”

Foye said that with how complicated this case was, he does not blame the jury for their sentencing.

“We don’t know exactly what did happen in that house that night,” Foye said, “So that can be something that can be very difficult for juries to work through.”

While rarely used, the “gay panic defense” is a completely legal self-defense claim in 48 states that allows a defendant to claim temporary insanity if they committed the assault or murder due to circumstances arising from the victim’s sexual orientation.

The American Bar Association recommended the defense be eliminated in 2013. Since then, only two states have done so: California in 2014 and Illinois last December.

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