Last Friday, a jury in Cook County, IL acquitted Joseph Biedermann, 30, of first-degree murder in the death of his Hoffman Estates neighbor, Terrance Michael Hauser, 38, in the early morning hours of March 5th, 2008. Biedermann stabbed Hauser 61 times, claiming that Hauser had made an unwanted sexual advances and that he had merely been defending himself.
According to testimony at the trial, reported by Christopher Placek of the suburban Illinois Daily Herald, Hauser had invited Biedermann back to his apartment for drinks after a bartender had refused service to Biedermann, an admitted alcoholic. The two had not met previously, according to testimony, but both lived at the Barrington Lakes apartment complex on Hassell Road in Hoffman Estates. At Hauser's apartment, Biedermann claims, they talked sports. Then, he says, Hauser asked him if he was interested in porn, specifically "kiddie porn," which, Biedermann claims, Hauser said he was. Moments later, Biedermann testified, Hauser said he was "joking," at which point Biedermann says he passed out on Hauser's couch--only to be awoken later by his host menacing him with a 14-inch sword, and threatening to sexually assault him.
Biedermann claims Hauser succeeded in locking a grip around his neck, and then tried to stab him in the stomach with the 16-inch dagger, which Biedermann then used to stab him 61 times--nothing if not the very definition of "overkill."
At around 3:00 a.m., Biedermann's girlfriend, Anna Olesckiewicz, says she was awakened d by the sound of banging on her door. When she opened it, she saw Biedermann standing there, drenched in blood, with a cut on his right forearm. He told her to call 911, she testified, but she made him take a shower, placing the bloody clothes in bowls around the apartment so that they wouldn't drip blood all over the floor.
At St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates, Olesckiewicz finally called 911. In a police interview, she said that she'd wanted Biedermann to make the call, but he'd refused. According to the testimony of Hoffman Estates Police Detective Jason Currie, Biedermann didn't mention an attempted sexual assault when interviewed at the hospital, though Currie later testified Biedermann was shouting "I did not do anything wrong! I was defending myself!"
The Cook County jury had only two options: convict of first degree murder, or acquit. Biedermann had declined an offer to have the jury of eight-woman, four-man jury consider a second degree murder charge. Weighing the options, they chose to believe Biedermann and his lawyer, Sam Adam, Jr., who also successfully represented R. Kelly in his 2008 child pornography charges, and who is also ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich's defense attorney. They accepted as reasonable the premise that it had taken Biedermann 61 stab wounds in order to successfully fend off an unwanted sexual advance from another man.
If this is not the ultimate example of a "gay panic defense," then there is no such entity.
I tried to do the math to see how long it would take to stab a man 61 times--to plunge a knife into a human body, cutting through flesh and bone and muscle in order to inflict 61 wounds as a form of "self defense" against an unwanted advance. I attempted (in an admittedly very unscientific way) to factor in Biedermann's admitted drunkenness (according to press reports, Hauser had a blood alcohol content of 0.277 and Biedermann's was 0.226) and the fact that Hauser, before Biedermann killed him, was clearly imposing enough to have been intimidating at one point in the altercation. And of course, the act of the stabbing itself--let's face it, an arduous undertaking under the best of circumstances. There seemed to be ample time, in between plunges of the knife, to stop and reflect, to wonder where the telephone was, to call for help if, as he suggested, Biedermann had been in mortal danger.
In spite of all of these questions, I kept coming up with the same answer, or rather, with even more questions--questions that seem to suggest an answer of their own.
Questions like: if it really was "self defense," why did it require a savage orgy of slashing and cutting on Biedermann's part to secure his safety? Even if killing Hauser (in "self defense," of course) was the goal, did it really take 61 stab wounds--by any reckoning, an act of unimaginable rage and fury--to make sure he was dead? Surely the first stab, or maybe the second, would have debilitated Hauser long enough for Biedermann (who, as previously noted, sustained a cut on his forearm) to escape Hauser's apartment, banging on the other apartment doors, screaming for help--screaming that the man he went home with had pointed a sword at him, then tried to sexually assault him?
Biedermann claims that when he left Hauser's apartment, he tried to call 911 but the call was dropped. It appears not to have occurred to Biedermann to call the police from Hauser's apartment and say, "I was just attacked by a homosexual I went home with from a bar, and I had to defend myself. Please come right away--I think he might be dead!"
Instead, he went to his girlfriend's apartment and took a shower at her suggestion before heading to the hospital--not the police station--whereupon she called 911, not her boyfriend who had just butchered the man he claimed tried to have sex with him.
Questions like: if as Biedermann appeared to be suggesting, Hauser had a taste for pedophiliac pornography, why did he elect to make a violent pass at an adult man passed out on his couch?
Questions like why the room showed no signs of a struggle, according to the prosecutor: two wine glasses upright on a coffee table, no overturned furniture.
Other questions remain, including the question of how stabbing a man 61 times for making even an unwanted sexual advance to another man is considered an acceptable reaction, let alone a defense. Wrestling a weapon from an assailant's hand and stabbing him with it once or twice--even fatally--might be an entirely credible one in that situation, assuming there was some evidence of the alleged assault.
It's the other 60 stab wounds that leave me scratching my head.
There were no witnesses to the alleged sexual assault, and there appears to be little to no solid evidence that it even took place, other than the cut on Biedermann's forearm, and his assertion that he, and not the man he stabbed to death, was the victim. The prosecution said that Hauser sustained numerous potentially-fatal wounds to the lungs, kidney, pancreas, jugular, and abdomen. In the process of "defending himself" against Hauser, Biedermann succeeded in carving him to death.
In other words, on some level, the jury must have shared his contention that in order to secure his safety, he had to cut Terrance Michael Hauser to bloody ribbons.
And what of the victim? The real victim, the one who died in a hailstorm of 61 knife slashes in the early morning hours of March 5th 2008? According to Assistant State's Attorney Mike Gerber, he was "a lonely, little guy who lived by himself and wanted companionship."
Only two people know what really happened in that apartment on Hassell Road in Hoffman Estates. One of the men is dead, and the other, Hauser's very last companion, if only for a few hours, was able to convince an Illinois jury--in 2009--to acquit him of first degree murder, to convince them that he had been in the gravest possible danger from the unwanted sexual advances of another man--danger that required more than average lethal force--and that he was not, in fact, getting away with murder.