Tuesday, September 07, 2004

A Matthew Shepard before Matthew Shepard:

This event occurred in 1987. And although it did make the national news at that time, it received nowhere near the coverage of the Matthew Shepard case, and today, this murder is all but forgotten (nationally). People get murdered everyday, and while I have no objection to the amount of coverage that was given to the Shepard case and the consciousness that it raised about gay bashing, it received WAY more coverage than the Milano case, because, let’s be realistic, gay rights were at a more advanced stage when Shepard’s murder occurred, and political hay could be made of his case, at that time, that could not have been made at the time the Milano case occurred (even thought the Milano case occurred relatively not that many years earlier. But that just tells us how much progress gay rights have made in the past decade or so. For instance, in the socially liberal Northeast where I am from, neither my high school—in which I graduated from in 1991—nor any others in that general area, had “gay-straight alliances”; now practically all of them do).

In any event, the factual parallels are striking. The two assailants, now 40 and 35, were just about the same ages as the two in the Shepard case, when the murder occurred. And the victim, Anthony Milano, was 26, just a few years older than Matthew Shepard. The murder went down in the same way. Milano met these two “rough looking” guys at a local bar. They gave Milano the mistaken impression that they were “interested” in him. Milano left the bar with them. They took him to a remote area and brutally murdered him. Instead of being bludgeoned to death (as Shepard was), they slashed Milano’s throat “to the point where the coroner was unable to count the cuts.” “Both men allegedly made anti-gay comments prior to the murder, including: ‘I hate fucking homos,’ and ‘I hate fucking faggots,’ according to court testimony.”

A couple of interesting twists. The first is, this hits me literally close to home. The murder occurred in Lower Bucks County where I now live and where I grew up. One or both of the assailants graduated from my high school and the victim may have as well. (Pennsbury High School). One of the perps went to high school with my brother (is in his yearbook). The victim’s father was my best friend’s barber.

Right now I live in Yardley, which is a fairly upscale part of Bucks County, as is most of the real estate in Bucks (Yardley, Washington's Crossing, Doylestown, Newtown, New Hope, etc.). (And New Hope is a very artsy town with a huge gay population). But we also have our share of working class “blue-collar” towns as well: Levittown, Bristol, Langhorne, and Tullytown. The murder occurred in Tullytown and the 2-perps (and the victim as well) had a “blue-collar” background. Nothing against these folks—they are the “salt of the earth” and I’ve spent more than my fair share of time drinking in local bars with them (my older brother—who can be a bit of a “snob” sometimes—wouldn’t be caught dead in such a place where the “Pep Boys” crowd drinks). But I did notice, growing up, that the homophobia was stronger among that crowd as opposed to the more elite crowds in Bucks county (My high-school had a very “Outsiders”—the “greasers” v. the “socs”—dichotomy going on. Up until 11th & 12th grade, the Yardley [elite] students and the Levittown & Fairless Hills [blue collar] students of the Pennsbury system, were segregated in separate schools [nothing nefarious—we just went to different neighborhood schools]. Then in the high-school, they threw us all together [but today—it’s integrated though the 6-10 levels as well]. While there never were any “group brawls” that came down on class lines, those class lines were still evident and there was a lot of “behind the back snickering” that went on).

Hopefully, the gay-straight alliances in our public schools have tempered the homophobia that I noticed among many of the students generally, but more so among the blue-collar crowd.

The second interesting twist: The killers are seeking new trials. And a district court judge has already granted one his wish, “saying Laird's constitutional right to a fair trial was violated in 1988 due to errors by the trial judge, defense attorney and prosecutor.” Prosecutors appealed the "ruling, so a three-judge appellate panel will hear arguments Sept. 28 as to whether Laird should have a new trial. The judges are Maryanne Trump Barry, Theodore A. McKee and Jane R. Roth.”

Both of these bastards presently are on death row. Let’s hope “a technicality” doesn’t change this.