'Gay Panic'

Three men go wilding; the gays made them do it

"The fact that Coyazo speaks Spanish and indicated a preference to speak in Spanish with the officers makes it clear he is a newcomer to this country and it speaks volumes," wrote Power.

Detectives were obligated to further "emphasize" the "importance of the warnings" to the "undocumented alien," Power told the three justices of the appeals court. That they hadn't was evidence police had "quite substantially" denied Coyazo his constitutional rights, he asserted.

Last week, the justices responded.

Near the scene of a gory crime, photo by Vinh Dao
Near the scene of a gory crime, photo by Vinh Dao

"We need not belabor this issue," wrote justices Eileen C. Moore, Kathleen O'Leary and Raymond J. Ikola on Jan. 10. "The fact that the detectives mentioned they had read him his rights 'like on TV' and the defendant was a Mexican immigrant, who may or may not have been familiar with American television, was irrelevant . . . [Coyazo] was indisputably informed of his rights."

If the justices were terse on that subject, they were downright perplexed—annoyed?—by Coyazo's second line of attack on his convictions: Janosik's homosexuality.

At trial, Coyazo's defense lawyer DerekBercher sought a not guilty verdict on the attempted murder charge. He encouraged the jury not to have any sympathy for Janosik or his desire for "perverted sex." He argued that the shooting had been justifiable, coming as it had in the "heat of passion."

"Think in particular about young men about the age of Mr. Coyazo, and when you think back to the kids and playground taunts and, you know, fag this, and you are gay, that is like a challenge to your manhood," Bercher told jurors in his closing argument. "So when you think about what Mr. Janosik had in his mind when he showed up in Santa Ana that day, that is important."

Also, Coyazo hadn't pulled the trigger and so he shouldn't be held responsible for the shooting, said Bercher, who closed the case by saying, "I need some smart jurors. I think I got them."

Deputy District Attorney Karen Schatzle began her closing argument this way: "No matter how much I like the defense attorney, I feel like I need to go home and take a shower, get the dirt off of me."

Schatzle bristled at the notion that the defendants had been provoked to violence by the thought of gay sex. She said their conduct "screams guilty." And she had a specific plea to jurors.

"Now, there may be something made of Janosik's homosexuality," she told jurors. "Well, homosexuality is not a crime. And whether we like it or not, it is someone's free choice. These three individuals got into that car with the gun knowing that Janosik was homosexual. It wasn't a surprise. It didn't surprise anybody what he wanted to do. But did he deserve to be shot in the head and left for dead?"

Cordon-Suchtiz and Monroy, whose defense attorneys (in separate trials) hadn't exploited the gay angle with jurors, were found guilty of attempted murder. But Coyazo—thanks primarily to Bercher's attack on Janosik—dodged a bullet. Jurors found him guilty of robbery and kidnapping but refused to hold him responsible for the shooting. The jury deadlocked on the charge.

But the gay issue wouldn't go away. Before sentencing, Bercher talked about his client's "Christian faith" and renewed his attack on Janosik's "kinky" desires.

"We all know what Mr. Janosik had in mind when he had these young boys [reality check: they were all adults] into his car," he said. "We know that maybe there was gay panic."

Bercher claimed that time served in county jail before trial plus deportation would be adequate punishment. Superior Court Judge Patrick Donahue wasn't swayed. He sentenced Coyazo to life in prison with the possibility of parole. [His partners in crime were also sentenced to life in prison.]

Even in the penitentiary, however, Coyazo shaped his appeal of the conviction around the victim's sexuality: "The shooting occurred because Janosik went trolling for young Mexicans with whom he could play out his homosexual 'sandwich' fantasies."

The appellate justices were curt.

"The jury was free to believe [Coyazo's] version of events," they wrote. "They were also free to believe that all three men knew of Janosik's orientation and took advantage of it in the most calculating manner imaginable."

They denied Coyazo a new trial and affirmed his lengthy prison sentence.

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