By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
"Times really have changed," said the judge.
But the case that caught Alexander's eye was People vs. White. In 1978, Dan White, a disgruntled conservative politician who felt slighted by the growing political clout of San Francisco's gay community, crawled through a window in City Hall, shot Mayor George Moscone four times, reloaded and walked down the hall to kill Supervisor Harvey Milk, the nation's first openly gay elected official. In a stunning non sequitur, the defense argues that eating an excessive amount of junk food (the "Twinkie defense") caused White to temporarily lose responsibility for his actions. The jury bought it. White received a sentence of seven years and eight months for killing two unarmed men. The jury left the courthouse in a sympathetic frenzy for White and his ultimate act of homophobia.
The lessons of White's trial were not lost on Alexander. If he turned the trial into a tacit referendum on the victim's homosexuality, Alexander could sway the jury from a murder verdict, dispelling the requisite "malice" by casting Stockwell as the victim of a villainous homosexual. Although Alexander told the jury, "This is not the Twinkie defense," the resemblance to White's "diminished capacity" strategy is striking. Alexander, a former public defender, claimed his client's mental capacity was diminished not by sugar but by excessive alcohol and drug consumption as well as by posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Prosecutor Lloyd hotly disputed the claims, calling these "psychiatric ploys for sympathy…worse than the Twinkie defense."
PTSD has been diagnosed among survivors of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima, Korean POW camps, the Holocaust and the Vietnam War. It is the clinical response to overwhelming, catastrophic stress. But if you believe defense witness Dr. Glenn Lipson, a San Diego psychiatrist, Stockwell's sudden homicidal "rage" was a PTSD episode included by Finkel's alleged advances.
"Typically," Lipson told the court, "heterosexuals have a strong aversion to homosexuality—almost an overreaction." Because there is "testosterone involved," straight males respond to homosexual contact by "seeing red." But drugs, alcohol and old military taboos made the incident with Finkel so "traumatic," Stockwell felt "numb" as he picked up the mallet and attacked. Sympathizing with Stockwell's lies to police, Lipson, who was located by Alexander's county-paid detective, explained away the false accounts as an "obligation to his family."
Under cross-examination, Lipson conceded Stockwell had a "very bad temper" and had once said, "When I get drunk, I get violent and I don't fight fair." He noted that Stockwell talked of being "abusive to girls," liking bondage, and staying "sober for three or four months when he was 16." Lipson also admitted the defendant had suffered from "a lot of emotional and self-esteem problems" but disputed a 1979 psychological report that described the defendant's psychopathic tendencies. Relying on the defendant's jailhouse version of the crime, Lipson, who testifies frequently as an expert witness, believed Stockwell did not intend to kill but was merely responding to the "situation."
Day after day in the courtroom, Alexander undermined sympathy for the victim. "[Stockwell's] a heterosexual. His preference is for females," Alexander reassured the jury. "Scott's a decent guy with a stable family, a beautiful wife and a 5-year-old daughter." Stockwell's handkerchief-holding wife, seated behind the defense table, sobbed and was comforted by a matronly woman (actually Alexander's mother) who jurors believed was the defendant's grandmother.
The deceased was a "domineering and calculating" homosexual who "would have died anyway," said Alexander. "[Finkel] got off taking straight guys and making them do homosexual acts. Welcome to Boyd Finkel's circle of hell." For maximum impact, Alexander introduced testimony from two of Finkel's sex partners and the contents of his private conversations with a psychiatrist. The details unsettled many jurors.
On the witness stand, Stockwell played on their disgust. He swore he was unaware Finkel was gat when he asked to spend the night. At the house, he drank a Budweiser and Finkel asked if he wanted to "clean up." Stockwell said Finkel shocked him by opening the shower door and offering to wash his back, a suggestion he says he declined. He put on OP shorts and ate a sandwich with his host. Stockwell said he then made himself four or five 8-ounce drinks of gin and orange juice.
Later in the evening, he was washing clothes in the garage when Finkel and a second man carried him to the master bedroom, where Stockwell was held down, he said, so Finkel could orally copulate him. He didn't fight because he felt "woozy." (Alexander speculated that his client may have been slipped a "Mickey Finn.") After about 30 minutes, the assailants left Stockwell in bed and chatted in the living room. The nameless second man, described as having blond hair and tattoos, left as quickly as he had come. When his host allegedly tried to assault him again, Stockwell thought about leaving but was blocked, chased and verbally taunted. In the version he originally told police, Stockwell had Finkel saying, "You liked it, didn't you? You want to do it again?" before "I beat the shit out of him." But on the stand, Stockwell claimed he was backed into the garage and, frightened, grabbed the mallet in self-defense. When Finkel retreated down a hallway pleading with him to "relax," Stockwell remembered knocking his unarmed host to his knees and continuing to beat him before "everything kinda went black." Afterward, he sat over the body repeating, "What the fuck am I going to do?" He did not call police or an ambulance but stuffed Finkel's body in the Cadillac's trunk, searched the house and grabbed a bottle of whiskey. Making his getaway in Finkel's Honda, he picked up a Navy buddy in Oxnard on his way to Helena.