NEW YORK CITY: Possible Gay Panic Defense In Murder Of College Student

In August 2008, openly gay Pace University student Jason Pravia, 19, was murdered in his Chelsea apartment after he left a downtown party. According to reports, Pravia left the party extremely drunk and went to Union Square to score drugs. There he met Jeromie Cancel, 22, an occasional dealer and former mental patient who accompanied Pravia back to his apartment. After Pravia fell asleep, Cancel suffocated him with a plastic bag and robbed his apartment. When asked by police why he’d killed Pravia, Cancel reportedly said, “Because I wanted to. You gotta problem with that?”

Cancel is about to go on trial for second degree murder. According to Duncan Osborne at Gay City News, his lawyers may be preparing a gay panic defense. Osborne reports that prospective jurors were questioned yesterday about their views on “extreme emotional disturbance” as a justification for murder.

If successful, the lack of criminal responsibility could excuse Cancel entirely, though he would likely be held in an institution until he is cured of his condition. If a jury believes the extreme emotional disturbance defense, the charge against Cancel would be reduced to first-degree manslaughter.The maximum sentence for murder is 25-to-life, and the maximum sentence on the manslaughter charge is up to 25 years in prison, with the requirement that the offender serve six-sevenths of that time, or just over 21 years, before becoming eligible for release. Juries tend to dislike psychiatric defenses, and Alperstein was confronted with such skepticism. He said that the judge hearing the case, Daniel P. Fitzgerald, would give the jury rules to follow in assessing the defense. One man among the prospective jurors said he did not trust the “underpinnings of the science that can lead to conclusions about behavior.” Alperstein asked, “Would you be able to apply those rules or would you say, ‘I don’t care what the psychiatrists say’?” Another man said, “I have a hard time seeing how the psychiatry is an excuse for certain behavior,” and Alperstein asked, “Then you would have a hard time following the judge’s instructions?”

Jury selection is expected to conclude tomorrow. I’ll continue to follow this case.