James Miller: Texas Man Who Killed Gay Friend Acquitted Of Murder Because Of So-Called ‘Gay Panic’ Defense

'Gay Panic' is a legitimate defense for murder in 48 of the 50 states.

james miller avoided murder charges by pleading gay panic
Austin Police Department

'Gay Panic' is a legitimate defense for murder in 48 of the 50 states.

James Miller, a Texas man who admitted to killing a gay neighbor, was able to escape a murder conviction by claiming the so-called “gay panic” defense, Huffington Post is reporting.

Miller, 69, never denied killing Daniel Spencer, 32, that fateful night back in September, 2015. The two men had become friends after Miller moved to Austin from L.A., and they both shared a love of playing music. And so it was that the younger man invited the older man over to his house to drinks and listen to music.

However, as The Austin American-Statesman reported last week, things turned sour when Spencer allegedly began making “sexual advances” toward Miller. Specifically, Miller testified that Spencer tried to move in for a kiss.

“We been playing. We’re musicians and all that kind of stuff, but I’m not a gay guy. Then it seemed like everything was all right, and everything was fine. When I got ready to go — it seemed like [expletive] just started happening.”

Miller testified that his denial enraged Spencer, with the younger man apparently waving his hands and shouting obscenities. It was then that, as Miller admits, he grabbed a knife and stabbed Spencer twice.

A couple of hours later, he went to a nearby police station and turned himself in.

At trial, he claimed self-defense.

Miller’s attorney, Charlie Baird, told the jury that Spencer was in fear because of the size and age difference between the two men.

“He is confronted by an individual who is 6-foot, 6-foot-4, somewhere around there, half (his) age … strong.”

However, prosecutor Matthew Foye told the jury that any claim of self-defense was ludicrous, considering that the victim had been stabbed in the back and that Miller admitted that the two never fought.

“The defendant doesn’t have so much as a scratch on him. This defendant murdered Daniel Spencer.”

Ultimately, Miller was cleared of the most serious charges against him based on the so-called “gay panic defense.”

As The National LGBTQ Bar Association explains, “gay panic” (and its cousin, “trans panic”) is a defense whereby the defense essentially asks the jury to consider the victim’s sexual orientation when considering guilt or innocence in a crime. In essence, the defendant claims “temporary insanity” because of unwanted homosexual advances from the victim. The men accused of beating and killing Matthew Shepherd in 1998 attempted to use the defense (the jury didn’t buy it), as did Lawrence Reed, the man who admitted to killing gay Mississippi businessman Marco McMillian in 2013 (the jury didn’t buy it in that case, either).

Perhaps surprisingly, the “gay panic” defense is still a legal form of defense in 48 of the 50 states; only California and Illinois have stopped allowing it.

As for James Miller, he did not get off scot-free. Though acquitted on the more serious charges, he was still convicted of criminally negligent homicide. He’s been sentenced to six months in jail, 10 years of probation, and must do 100 hours of community service and pay $10,000 in restitution to Spencer’s family.