The Daily Agenda for Thanksgiving Day
November 28th, 2013
Turkey, oyster dressing, mashed sweet potatoes, basmati rice with walnuts and raisins, green bean casserole, spicy tomato crumble, steamed asparagus, cranberry sauce, wine, and homemade bourbon-molasses-pecan pie. That’s what’ll be on our table for Thanksgiving. What about you?
TODAY IN HISTORY:
25 YEARS AGO: Dallas Judge Gives Light Sentence In Gay Men’s Murder: 1988. It was a common sport among Dallas-area high school students throughout the 1980s and well into the 1990s: drive into the Oak Lawn gayborhood on a weekend night and spend the evening “gay bashing” — their term for it. (One of my friends was stabbed in the chest and spent days in intensive care in one such attack while walking along Throckmorton Street with his boyfriend. His assailants were never found.) In one case, nine guys from North Mesquite High School drove to Oak Lawn one night in May to “pester the homosexuals.” According to the New York Times’s description of the event:
Witnesses who were in that group said the boys were standing on a street corner and shouting at passers-by, and then Tommy Lee Trimble, 34, and John Lloyd Griffin, 27, drove up and invited the boys into their car. [Richard Lee] Bednarski was said to have persuaded one more friend in his group to get in the car. After the car reached a secluded area of Reverchon Park, Mr. Bednarski is said to have ordered Mr. Trimble and Mr. Griffin to remove their clothes. On their refusal, a witness said, Mr. Bednarski drew a pistol and began firing. Mr. Trimble died immediately. Mr. Griffin died five days later.
At first, the crime was thought to be a botched robbery. Former Dallas Gay Alliance president William Waybourn later remembered, “Reverchon Park was a notorious mugging point. We don’t even know they would gay at first.” But as details unfolded, it became clear that there was more going on. Bednarski, the son of a police officer, began bragging about the shootings, then he became worried that Griffin might live to identify against him.
Bednarski was found guilty of two counts of murder, but Texas law allows the defendant to decide whether the judge or jury would determine the sentence. Bednarksi’s defense lawyer sensed that Judge Jack Hampton was sympathetic and chose him. Prosecuters demanded the maximum: life in prison. But Hampton announced that he considered, among other things, that Bednarski has no prior criminal record, was attending college, and was raised n a “good home.” He then handed down the sentence: 30 years in prison instead of life.
The sentence was considered light. Hampton explained his reasoning two days later to the Dallas Times Herald: “The two guys that got killed wouldn’t have been killed if they hadn’t been cruising the street picking up teenage boys. I don’t care for queers cruising the streets picking up teenage boys. I’ve got a teenage boy.” He also said that he would have handed down a much harsher sentence if the victims had been “a couple of housewives out shopping, not hurting anybody. I put prostitutes and gays at about the same levee, and I’d be hard pressed to give someone life for killing a prostitute.”
Those remarks touched off a furor in the gay community. Paul Varnell of the Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force summed up the reaction and said, “It appears that we do have one law for heterosexuals and one law for homosexuals.” John Wiley Price, the outspoken African-American activist and Dallas County Commissioner, said, “The only difference between the Ku Klux Klan and Judge Hampton is that one wears a white robe and the other a black robe.” On December 19, 200 people attended a rally outside the county courthouse. The next day, Sen. Edward Kennedy joined another protest at City Hall Plaza, where he described Hampton’s comments as “bigotry at its worst.”
Hampton had his supporters though. Two days later, fifty supporters demonstrated outside the courthouse. The Rev. Donald Skelton of Victory Tabernacle Church said that his reason for demonstrating had less to do with supporting Hampton as it was to “protest sodomy.” “He explained, “Our sole thrust is against sodomy. I feel sorry for them [homosexuals].” That same day, Hampton called a press conference and apologized for his “poor choice of words,” although he also protested that the Time Herald reporter had “distorted” his remarks. “I did not intend to stat ethat any victim of crime was entitled to less fair treatment.”
The gay community wasn’t satisfied. Waybourn responded that Hampton had “raised the question of his judicial fitness and ability to be impartial. This question cannot be answered with a simple apology.”
LGBT leaders filed a complaint with the Commission on Judicial Conduct, which publicly censured Hampton for making “irresponsible statements” which “created an additional burden for the entire judiciary.” But it fell short of condemning his prejudice or removing him from the bench. Hampton, who had been first elected judge in 1981 and would be up for re-election in 1990, remained unconcerned. “Just spell my name right,” he told the Times-Herald. “If it makes anybody mad, they’ll forget by 1990.” He was right. He was re-elected in 1990, but his judicial career finally ended when when he ran for an appellate court seat in 1992 and lost.
Bednarski was released in 2007 after serving less than nineteen years in Huntsville.
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As always, please consider this your open thread for the day.