Arresting Tales

Gay panic defense wins in Cook County

Let me give you a hypothetical situation:

You're out drinking, and you're getting heavily intoxicated.  A neighbor, who you may or may not have met before, offers to let you come back and drink with him at his place when the bartender won't serve you any more.  You agree.  Once you get back to the neighbor's place you pass out.  You wake up, and the friendly neighbor is now brandishing a dagger and trying to sexually assault you. 

Question: do you grab the dagger and stab your attacker in self-defense:

a) a couple of times, enough to get away and run for help,

b) 5 or 10 times, can't remember because you were terrified,

c) 15 or 20 times--the first 5 or 10 stabs were self-defense, and then a few more to make sure, but certainly no more than that before you escaped and went for help, or

d) 61 times, causing "significant injury to Hauser's jugular vein, lungs, liver, pancreas, renal artery, kidneys, spine and abdominal aorta, which is one of the main blood suppliers in the body."

If you chose "d", you are recently acquitted murder suspect Joseph Biedermann, who not only stabbed 38-year-old Terrance Hauser 61 times, but successfully convinced a Cook County jury of his peers that he did so in self-defense.

What Biedermann's attorney trotted out for the jury was a variation on the old "gay panic" defense.  The theory is that a heterosexual defendant can become so unglued by the unwanted offer of gay sex that he flies into a blind, psychotic rage. Think of it as a type of temporary insanity.  "Gay panic" is not typically a successful defense, and according to this article it fails more often than it succeeds.   It was tried, unsuccessfully, in the Matthew Shepard case

Biedermann's attorney was smart to add the self-defense angle in this case.  Self-defense is an easier sell.  It's common for a knife-wielding killer to sustain enough wounds during the act of repeatedly stabbing and slashing a victim to make a later claim of "defensive wounds" plausible.  Especially if the only other witness to the incident is dead.

The jury in Biedermann's case found the claim of self-defense reasonable, in spite of testimony that Biedermann never called 911 from the apartment, did not want to go to the hospital for his own injuries, and refused to call police when his girlfriend asked him to. He made no mention of any sexual assault to officers who interviewed him at the hospital. 

So, let's recap.  A dead man with 61 stab wounds, a weapon recovered by police, a suspect who didn't call 911 and only sought medical treatment at his girlfriend's insistence, and who never made any mention of attempted sexual assault during the investigation.  A verdict of...not guilty

Biedermann.jpg

By claiming that he was the target of a gay rapist, Biedermann evidently elicited enough "ick" factor in the jurors to result in their finding his self-defense claim plausible. 
 


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12 Comments

Alicia Eler said:

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This is unbelievable. Not only was Biedermann a complete homophobe, but the judges who tried him must have been, too. Wow. I am speechless. Thanks for this report, Joe.

Joe the Cop said:

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Alicia, Biedermann had a jury trial, so it was 12 of our fellow citizens who bought his argument. For what it's worth, his attorney was Sam Adam, Jr, who successfully defended R. Kelly against his child porn charge, and who is now representing Blago. I'm not sure if the State's Attorney in this case got out-lawyered or what.

Fernando Diaz said:

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Re: Sam Adam, Jr., who is Biedermann and how can he afford R. Kelly and Blago's attorney?

Was he trying to make a point with this defense?

Clark Bender said:

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Good post and links, Joe. Hard to believe 12 people could buy that story...

joey said:

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"You wake up, and the friendly neighbor is now brandishing a dagger and trying to sexually assault you."

He was assaulted with a weapon, and killed the assailant?

He should not have even had to stand trial. The state owes this man an apology for wasting his time. And honest folks everywhere owe him a big thanks for letting people know they can't get away with attacking us.

Trying to draw parallels between someone who refuses to let himself be a victim and the people who terrorized Matthew Shepard is clever, and will probably get a great many people on your side. Alas, I am not one of them.

beegeez1 said:

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He wouldn't have been freed by the jury without the 'gay panic' defense.
In the trial, the homicide victim was transformed into an insideous gay sex predator, while the killer was portrayed as a nice innocent normal younger normal male who even had a real girlfriend at home.
Homophobia is alive and well.
The tragic thing about this murder and trial is it sets the stage for every anti-gay zealot to go commit violent offenses against gays and they'll expect to be exonerated by their peers at trial.

Joe the Cop said:

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Joey, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Biedermann's I-was-fighting-off-gay-rape claim might have been more plausible had he made it right after the incident occurred. That's what I really have a beef with. According to what I've read about the case, he killed the victim in a drunken rage. Then, after retaining the services of a talented attorney, he claimed for the benefit of a jury that he was the intended target of a sexual assault. I've seen plenty of valid self-defense claims, some involving knives, guns and baseball bats, and this sure doesn't look like one of them to me.

Do you have any idea what 61 stab wounds look like? I do. 61 stab wounds kind of crosses the line from self-defense and heads into chopped raw meat overkill territory.

Also, I'm not drawing a parallel with the Matthew Shepard case, I simply mentioned that as an example where a defendant (unsuccessfully) tried a "gay panic" defense.

joey said:

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Well if he wasn't attacked with a dagger after all, and just took it upon himself to kill a guy, he deserves to go to jail.

But if Person A attacks Person B with a weapon, then Person B gets the upper hand and kills Person A, Person B should be lauded--not locked away.

Joe the Cop said:

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Joey, I agree with you there. I'm a big fan of the right of law-abiding citizens to defend themselves. There's a line I've used multiple times:

"Starting a fight and losing doesn't automatically make you the victim of a battery."

I just thought in this case that the self-defense claim was spurious, and the gay-rape claim was only made to gross out the jury and make the self-defense claim more believable for them. I'd really like to know the composition of the jury in this case.

beegeez1 said:

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While the verdict is shocking and resulted in the killer walking free, in fairness to the jury, they were only allowed to consider first-degree murder charges, as the Cook Co. State's Atty is prone to do. They don't consider 2nd.
While 61 stab wounds seem to me to indicate deliberate intent, a 1st degree verdict probably would have been tossed on directed or on appeal.
The ASA should have spent more effort mounting a better defense since they were going to play the USA charge - Unwanted Sexual Advance. Should have known that the defense would play up anti-gay hostility in the jury.
This is a textbook-classic 'gay murder' case and I seriously doubt that the victim threatened the offender with bladed weapon at all.
More than likely, the offender snapped upon the realization that he was seduced by a male; was embarrassed after engaged in MSM activities; a robbery of the victim gone bad; or the victim threatened to 'out' him to his girlfriend who was asleep at Biedermann's nearby apartment.
Biedermann's injuries came during the knife attack or were self-inflicted.
Police too often to recognize 'gay murders' as a distinct subset of homicide investigations. We used to have many, many more of them. But now, police & ASA's don't know how to handle them.
PS: Excellent question - how was Biedermann able to afford Sam Adam. Whatever the cost - it was worth it for him.

Joe the Cop said:

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beegeez, thanks for your excellent comment.

"This is a textbook-classic 'gay murder' case and I seriously doubt that the victim threatened the offender with bladed weapon at all.
More than likely, the offender snapped upon the realization that he was seduced by a male; was embarrassed after engaged in MSM activities; a robbery of the victim gone bad; or the victim threatened to 'out' him to his girlfriend who was asleep at Biedermann's nearby apartment.
Biedermann's injuries came during the knife attack or were self-inflicted.
Police too often to recognize 'gay murders' as a distinct subset of homicide investigations. We used to have many, many more of them. But now, police & ASA's don't know how to handle them."

I'm assuming you meant "too often fail to recognize" in your statement above. I think everything you said that I just quoted is absolutely correct.

I remember going through training as a new detective, reading "Practical Homicide Investigation" by Vernon Geberth and attending his classes, and the 80 hour homicide investigation class at the Southern Police Institute, and hearing this topic discussed. When I ran into Scott Loughman in 1995 I felt very well-prepared to interrogate him as a result.

Thanks again for your comments.

Wendy C said:

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Your article is succinct and right to the point. I just can't believe Biedermann's story. I think it's more likely that the two men engaged in behavior they may not have if sober, a sexual act. Then Biedermann wakes up, he's repulsed and horrified by what happened; then becoming enraged, feels the need to obliterate the act by destroying the other man. That's the only way I can explain such rage and the outcome. I'm just surprised the prosecution didn't offer the second-degree murder option.

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