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Martin Byerly, 58, murdered in rural Texas county; killer going for 'gay panic defense'

UPDATE: Jun 17 2009 Jury watches videotaped confession in 3rd day of trial.

‘Gay panic’ dragged out as defense in Texas murder trial

by Kilian Melloy
EDGE Staff Reporter
Jun 17 2009

The defense in a murder trial in a rural Texas county says that the accused stabbed and beat the victim in self defense rather than endure a sexual assault.

The claim is a variant on the so-called “gay panic” defense, in which alleged killers justify the killing of victims by saying that they were gay and that some sort of sexual contact was involved.

Jasper County’s local television news, KJAS posted an account on June 16 of the trial, which was in its second day.

Martin Byerly

Martin Byerly

Forensic testimony described how alleged killer Eric Smith, 36, purportedly stabbed Martin Byerly, 58, in the chest and eye with a screwdriver and beat him about the head with a cinder block at a motel room, then attempted disposed of the naked body.

The court also heard that Smith attempted to obliterate blood traces in the room with bleach and detergent.

The killing reportedly took place in late September of 2007; the following June, Smith’s father went to the authorities. Byerly’s bones were discovered in a remote location along with a pair of Wrangler’s jeans alleged to have belonged to Smith.

A Crime Scene Technician testified that Smith led authorities to a spot on a county road where he said he had discarded various items, including the implements used in the killing. A screwdriver and cinder block were presented as evidence, the article said.

Attorney Randy Walker presented the “gay panic” defense, claiming on behalf of Smith that Smith had met with Byerly at the motel for drugs, only to be faced with a sexually aggressive, knife-wielding Byerly. The defense claimed that in order to defend himself, Smith was compelled to stab him multiple times and beat him with the cinder block, fracturing Byerly’s skull in the process.

Dana Weeks Byerly testified that her late husband was not gay or bisexual. A resident of the Tri-A-Night motel, where the killing took place, said that Byerly had sought sex from him, but that he had suggested that Byerly go to Smith for sex.
Eric Smith, murderer of Martin Byerly
Homa Hal Smith took the stand subsequently to testify that his son, the defendant, had admitted killing Byerly to him, but had said that it was a matter of robbery.

Homa Hal Smith then testified that his son later confessed to being bisexual, and claimed that Byerly had attempted to assault him sexually.

A co-worker of Smith testified that Smith related having killed Bylerly; the co-worker said he did not report the crime for fear of being Smith’s next victim, reported the article.

The court also heard that Smith had come up with a plan to frame an innocent person for the murder and collect a reward; Smith’s father said that the defendant proposed this scheme, but that the elder Smith did not want to go through with it. It was at that point, the elder Smith said, that he went to the police.

Smith has been in police custody since his arrest a year ago. He faces capital murder charges.

The trial is ongoing.

Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.

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