Man avoids prison time for killing neighbor after using rare ‘gay panic’ defense

U.S. & World
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James Miller will serve 10 years probation after being sentenced for criminally negligent homicide for killing his neighbor in east Austin in 2015.

The jury recommended Miller serve 10 years probation and the judge was required to honor that.

However, Judge Brad Urrutia also added a maximum allowed six months jail time, also requiring Miller to complete 100 hours of community service, pay nearly $11,000 in restitution to the victim’s family and use a portable alcohol monitoring device for at least a year.

Judge Urrutia will reassess after a year on whether the device is still needed.

Prosecutor Matthew Foye says the judge’s maximum penalty and the fact that the jury didn’t let Miller off on his self-defense claim reinforces what he hoped to prove.

“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.”

The defense argued Miller stabbed his neighbor when Spencer allegedly came on to him. The prosecution argued blood evidence didn’t match Miller’s story. However, Foye says the jury did its best with a hard trial.

“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.”

Defense attorney Charlie Baird said he’d hoped Miller wouldn’t have to serve any time. 

“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.”

However, Baird said he was happy Miller wouldn’t have to serve time in prison. 

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

Miller’s defense is also known as the “gay panic defense.” While it’s a rare defense, it is legal in most states. NBC News reports it’s been used in about half of all the states with some success as part of an insanity or self-defense claim. 

There is a push to ban the defense in several states, including Texas. In December, Illinois became the second state to ban it. California banned it in 2014 after the American Bar Association called on states to eliminate it.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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