A Texas man avoided murder and manslaughter convictions after his attorney cited a defense often called “gay panic” as the reason he killed a neighbor.
James Miller of Austin was found guilty Tuesday of criminally negligent homicide in the 2015 death of Daniel Spencer, local NBC affiliate KXAN reports. He was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years probation and six months in jail. Miller also must complete 100 hours of community service, pay $11,000 in restitution to Spencer’s family and use an alcohol monitoring device for at least a year.
In September 2015, Spencer had invited Miller to his East Austin home to drink and play music. Miller testified that Spencer, who had relocated to Texas from Los Angeles about a year before his death, grew angry when Miller rejected his sexual advances, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Miller said Spencer then moved forward, brandishing a glass.
“We’re musicians and all that kind of stuff, but I’m not a gay guy,” Miller told police, according to an affidavit cited by KXAN. “It seemed like everything was alright and everything was fine. When I got ready to go, it seemed like [expletive] just started happening.”
Miller later testified that he stabbed Spencer, who was 37 years younger and at least 8 inches taller than him, twice.
“He had height advantage over me, arm length over me, youth over me,” he said. “I felt he was going to hurt me.”
Defense attorney Charlie Baird told KXAN that he didn’t think the verdict was fair. “We thought that he should have been acquitted on the basis of self-defense,” he said.
Prosecutor Matthew Foye told the TV station that the fact the jury didn’t let Miller off on his claims of self-defense “established that Daniel Spencer was a victim of a senseless killing by the defendant and he did not do anything to bring this upon himself.”
At present, 48 U.S. states allow the “gay panic” or “trans panic” defense, in which a defendant can cite a victim’s sexuality or gender identity as the justification for violent crime, usually to obtain lesser charges or a reduced sentence.
The defense tactic sparked debate in the LGBTQ community in 2016 when James Dixon was sentenced to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter in the 2013 beating death of Islan Nettles. Dixon said he’d been flirting with Nettles on the street before he knew she identified as transgender and that he attacked her after friends mocked him for trying to pick up a trans woman.
Queer rights advocates, including Nettles’ mother, felt the sentence was too light.
In December, Illinois became the second state, after California, to prohibit the defense.