In light of some recent unconventional anti-gay assaults in the District, I've been taking a look at the difficulty in proving bias motivation in alleged hate crimes. Here's one pretty clear-cut bias-motivated crime that didn't yield a hate crime designation, via the Washington Blade: On Tuesday, a jury convicted 25-year-old Justin Navarro of first-degree murder in the death of 31-year-old Kevin Massey, but declined to convict Navarro of bias motivation in the killing. The facts of the case, from the Blade:
* According to a U.S. Attorney’s office statement, witnesses testified that Navarro first set his sights on Massey about a month before the murder. Navarro was being hauled out of Massey's apartment complex, apparently incapacitated from drugs. Witnesses testified that Navarro's "pants were falling down," and that Massey approached and attempted to "pull up the defendant’s pants for him," prompting mockery from onlookers. According to the U.S. Attorney's office, some onlookers began "saying Mr. Massey was going to make the defendant 'his next bitch.'"
* Throughout the month leading up to the killing, witnesses testified that "Navarro became the target of rumors questioning his sexual orientation," and that he was overheard "loudly denying the rumors and vowing to kill Mr. Massey."
* On the day of the murder, the U.S. Attorney's office says that "Navarro knocked on the door of Massey’s apartment . . . and asked, 'Where’s the faggot.'"
* Then, "witnesses reported that Navarro then went into the kitchen, grabbed a 'large butcher knife,' walked into the bedroom and 'without any warning began stabbing Mr. Massey repeatedly.'" Massey died on the scene after having been "stabbed between 18 and 20 times, including 15 times in the back."
* During the trial, Navarro and his attorneys floated a variation on the "gay panic defense," insisting that he killed Massey in self-defense because "he believed Mr. Massey was either going to kill him or rape him.”
The jury apparently rejected that "gay panic" defense when it found sufficient evidence to charge Navarro with first-degree murder. But it declined to find hat anti-gay prejudice necessarily motivated the killing. The Blade cites "a law enforcement source" who claims that juries are often reluctant to make a definitive call on a defendant's motive, given the difficulty in proving motivation beyond a shadow of a doubt. But if a case like this one can't draw a hate-bias designation, which set of facts can?
When Navarro is sentenced—he faces between 30 years and life in prison for the crime—the LGBT community will have a chance to weigh in: Gays & Lesbians Opposing Violence co-chair A.J. Singletary told the Blade that his group will "write a community impact statement to be submitted to the judge" that "conveys the effects of this crime on the LGBT community.”