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Vermont bans lawyers from using “panic” excuse for killing LGBTQ people

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Vermont is the 14th state to ban the gay and trans “panic defense” that allowed defendants to justify murder by saying they were surprised to find out someone is an LGBTQ person.

While the argument was widely accepted nationwide, it has been increasingly shunned as a pitiful justification for murder. It had never been used in Vermont.

Related: Vermont’s state senate will be led by a woman for the first time & she’s an out lesbian

The gay and trans panic defenses are often used by defendants who are accused of violent crimes. They claim that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity made them panic.

The American Bar Association adopted a resolution calling for an end to the defense in 2013.

The gay panic defense has been used in several prominent cases. It gained national attention in a 1995 case where a gay man, Scott Amedure, told his straight friend Jonathan Schmitz that he was attracted to him on the Jenny Jones Show.

Three days later, Schmitz shot Amedure and turned himself into police, and he argued in court that he was “embarrassed” on national TV. He avoided a first-degree murder conviction and was convicted of second-degree murder.

The use of the  “gay panic” became even more publicly discussed with the murder of Matthew Shepard, where his killers claimed that Shepard had “come onto” one of the duo. Similarly, the “transgender panic” defense gained prominence in the way of the 2004 murder of Gwen Araujo in Newark, California. 

“With this legislation, Republicans, Democrats and Progressives alike sent a message to Vermonters that your identity should never be an excuse for someone to cause you harm,” Gov. Phil Scott (R) said.

“While this effort is a step in the right direction, we know there is still more work to do to ensure all Vermonters, regardless of identity, feel safe and protected in our state. I look forward to continuing our work together in the future.”

A federal bill, S.B. 1137, has been introduced that would ban the practice nationwide. It has not been heard in committee and is not expected to pass this year.

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