SAN FRANCISCO -- The California Court of Appeal Friday reduced the second-degree homicide convictions of three young Vallejo men for the fatal 'gay bashing' of a San Francisco man in 1984.
The trio currently are serving sentences of 15 years to life. By a 2-1 vote, the court modified their convictions to involuntary manslaughter and directed the trial judge to resentence them.
The decision meant the defendants would become eligible for parole. They are Timothy White, 26, and David Rogers and Donald Clanton, both 23.
They were among six acquaintances who, having met in Vallejo, decided to go to San Francisco for the purpose, according to one witness, of gay bashing.
A 9 p.m. in the Polk Street district, a favorite area of homosexuals, two men walking along the street were accosted by four of the Vallejo group, one of them shouting anti-homosexual epithets.
John O'Connell, 42, suffered two blows and fell to the pavement. The medical evidence was that it was the fall, not the blows, that produced the cerebral trauma that caused death. It also developed that O'Connell was intoxicated at the time.
The court majority said that for a second-degree murder conviction the defendants must know that there was 'a high probability' that their conduct would result in death.
As a matter of law, the court said 'the striking of a person with one's hands is not an act involving a high probability of death.'
The court said the attack seemed clearly motivated by 'mindless homophobia' but 'the convictions of second-degree murder cannot stand.'
The incident inspired great community outrage in 1984. The court said news reports exaggerated the facts but that this factor did not require a change of venue, as the defendants argued.
In a dissent, Justice John W. Holmdahl noted the defendants left the scene laughing and said aggravating circumstances in the case should elevate the crime to second-degree murder.
The majority opinion was signed by Justices John T. Racanelli and William A. Newsom, Jr.