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Hate Crimes on Wikipedia: The Panic Rooms, Pt. 3

Uncontrollable rage. It’s probably a more appropriate term than “panic,” since it seems to be at the core of the other stories in this series. Uncontrollable, murderous rage seems to have been a significant factor in the murders of Richie Phillips and Jason Gage. “Panic” implies a kind of fear, but the brutality of their murders seems to point to an anger, triggered in both cases ? according to their killers ? by unwanted sexual advances. In Phillips case, his killer’s relatives testified that the murder had planned the murder, and lured Phillips into his hotel room to kill him, because of a deep anger he had towards gay men.

Gage’s killer accompanied him to several bars on the night of his murder ? including a gay bar ? then went back to Gage’s apartment, where he claimed to have killed Gage in “a fight that got way out of hand.” Yet his killer bore no wounds from a fight. Gage’s body bore no defensive wounds, suggesting that he fought off an attack, and police said his apartment showed no signs of a struggle; just two glasses sitting out, suggesting that the two had been drinking and watching television together; leaving open the question of whether the killer’s “panic” set in after a consensual encounter between the two. No one else was in Gage’s apartment that night. Only he and his killer know what happened there that night.

That’s true for Glenn Kopitske too, killed by a 17-year-old, six-foot-three, 280 lb. football star (wrestler, and Eagle Scout) who claimed to have flown into a murderous rage after a consensual sexual encounter with Kopitske ? an unmarried, 37 year old, bipolar man who lived at the end of a dead end road. Gary Hirte claimed he was sitting on top of his car, under a bridge, getting drunk one night in July, 2003, when he encountered Kopitske. He would later testify that he had “homosexual urges” that got stronger when he drank. He’d finished six malt liquors and 15 shots of vodka when Kopitske drove up in his car. The two flirted, according to Hirte, and then agreed to head back to Kopitske’s house.

And that’s where I started to think Hirte’s story was more plausible than at least the prosecution thought. Sitting on top of his car? Parked under a bridge? And what was Kopiske doing there? I don’t know much about Winnebago County, Wisconsin, where the story unfolded, but my guess is that there aren’t a lot of places for gay men, or men looking for sex with other men, to meet each other. Under a bridge? Sounds like a plausible cruising spot; just likely enough not to be regularly patrolled by law enforcement and probably passed around by word of mouth. It’s likely, then, that even some people who weren’t looking for that kind of fare, and thus didn’t cruise there. In college, I knew where the cruising spots were, thought I never went to them.

Suddenly, it doesn’t seem strange that Kopitske and Hirte might meet under a bridge. Kopitske, whose orientation was never specifically identified in any of my research (which brought up that he never married, but none of which suggested he’d ever dated women) may have know that he could meet other men under that bridge, and gone there regularly. It may have been as quiet and out-of-the-way as his house. Hirte, may have heard through the high school grapevine that the spot under the bridge was a cruising spot for “faggots,” and the same liquid courage that unlocked his “homosexual urges” may have been fuel to get him there and then to Kopitske’s house, for what he said was his first encounter with a man.

Hirte’s rage didn’t set in until he sobered up, back in his car. And that rage was enough fuel to get him back to Kopitske’ s house, this time to kill him.

What happened to Glenn Kopitske is at least enough to make me think that those fantasies of making out with the high school football hero were better left as fantasies.

Free Image Hosting at allyoucanupload.comGlenn Kopitske (1966 – July 31, 2003), a 37-year-old man with mental health problems, was murdered by 17-year-old Gary Hirte who pleaded temporary insanity after having a sexual encounter with Kopitske.

The Background

Glenn Kopitske

When Glenn Kopitske was adopted by Shirley and Virgil Kopitske, the couple had already buried two children.[1] After college at the University of Texas in Dallas, where he tried his hand at stand-up comedy, he returned to live near his parents in Winnebago County, Wisconsin. Diagnosed as bipolar as a teenager[2], Kopitske needed to be close to his parents but required some independence as well.

If Kopitske’s condition kept him close to home, it also earned him a reputation as notable, but harmless eccentric. In 1996, Kopitske — who received a monthy federal check due to his psychological disability, and supported himself by working at Wal-Mart and substitute teaching in New London — took $500 and declared himself a candidate for the White House, even though he was five years too young to qualify as a presidential candidate.[1] He even invited citizens to a meet-and-greet luncheon.[3] He did community theatre, appearing in a local theater production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”[3]

At 37, Kopitske — never married — lived alone in Winnebago County, far from any neighbors.[4]

Gary Hirte

At sixteen, Gary Hirt became the first Eagle Scout Weyauwega, Wisconsin had produced in 20 years.[5] By seventeen Hirte was a an all-conference football player, a straight A student, and salutatorian of his graduating class at Weyauwega-Freemont High School.[6] At 6-foot-3 and 280 lbs., Hirte was two-time all-conference defensive lineman on his high school football team, and a member of the wrestling team. He had also achieved a 4.0 grade point average.[3]

Hirte worked at Dairy Queen during his senior year, and had big plans for his future. He’d won a scholarship to St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, where he planned to study criminal justice.[7]


Glenn Kopitske had been dead for almost two days when his mother drove to his house on Saturday, August 2, after not being able to reach him by phone, and discovered his nude body. Kopitske’s back door was locked, which his mother said was unusual for him. Shirley Kopitske also noticed that her son’s car keys, which he always kept on the kitchen table, were missing.

The summer heat had so affected Kopitske’s body that authorities initially thought he had died of natural causes. Only on Monday, August 5, when a pathologist turned Kopitske’s body over and noticed liquified brain matter leaking from a would in the back of the head did authorities realize that Kopitske had been shot to death, and that the marks on his chest and back were actually posthumous stab wounds.

The physical search of the murder scene turned up no further evidence. During ad canvas of the neighborhood, a neighbor claimed that a few nights earlier he had scene “an older car with square headlights and rectangular taillights” driving through the area, flashing a bright light at the three residences on the dead end street.[1] It would be several months before investigators knew who had killed Kopitske, and why.

Trophies & Boasts

Two weeks after Kopitske’s murder Hirte called his friend, Eric Wenzelow, and asked him if he knew about Kopitske’s murder. Over two weeks earlier, Wenzelow had been with Hirte, cruising Winnegabo County at night, in Hirte’s Dodge Dynasy shining a 500,000-candle-power spotlight around. Hirte called it “shining for deer.”[4] The game involved shining the light at deer, thus paralyzing them, and took them right past Kopitske’s house.

“I did it,” Hirte told Wenzelow during that call.”

Wenzenlow did not believe Hirte initially. So Hirte showed him the 8-inch long hunting knife he said he used to stab Kopitske in the back and chest, and the keys he said he’d taken from Kopitske’s home.[8]

In August 2003 Hirte met Olivia Thoma at the Winnebago County Fair, where she was chosen “Fairest of the Fair.” Over the course of their relationship, Hirte told Thoma how he had murdered Kopitske. Thoma became convinced that Hirte was telling the truth and, in January 2004, told local police about her suspicions, providing details about the murder that had not been reported in the media.

Hirte told Thoma that he had driven his father’s car, which matched the description given by Kopitske’s neighbor, to Kopitske’s home and shot him in the back of the head with a 12-gauge shotgun, then stabbed in him twice in the back and once in the heart.[3]

On January 28, 2004, Thoma agreed to engage Hirte in a telephone conversation about the murder, while the police listened and recorded what was said.[4] During that telephone call, Hirt told Thoma he’d killed Kopitske “to see if he could get away with it.[9]

After his arrest, Hirte would confess to a very different motive.


The following day, police interviewed Hirte’s friends at school, including Wenzel, who told them about driving past Kopitske’s house with Hirte in July while they were “shining for deer”, and how Hirte had told him about the murder and showed him the knife.

Hirte was called to the principal’s office and arrested. Hirte admitted telling friends that he had killed Kopitske but claimed to have been making it up. He later hired Gerald Boyle, who had previously defended Jeffrey Dahmer, as his defense attorney.

The same day, police arrived at the Hirtes’ home with a search warrant. In Hirte’s room, they found Kopitske’s keys above the doorsill. The found a 12-gauge shotgun in the basement.

On August 30, 2004, Hirte was charged with first-degree murder. He was held in Winnebago County jail on $400,000 bond.[6] He pleaded not guilty, and later changed his plea to not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. If he were found guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, Hirte would be able to petition every six months for release.[10]

Lawyers suggested that DNA evidence suggested the theory that Hirte killed Kopitske just to see if he could get away with it was not true.[11]

The Murder

Police alleged, based in part on Hirte’s recorded comments to Thoma, say that on the night of Kopitske’s murder, Hirte parked his car at the end of the dead-end road, and retrieved a 12-gauge shotgun from the trunk of the car. He loaded the shotgun with a deer slug, which would shatter in Kopitske’s skull and liquefy his brain without leaving an exit wound.[1]

Kopitske was asleep, but likely woke up and got out of bed after Hirte entered the house. Upon seeing Hirte and his shotgun, Kopitske pleaded with Hirte not to shoot him. Hirte then said he ordered Kopitske to lie down on the floor.[12]

Forensics tests show that Hirte then pressed the muzzle of the shotgun in to the back of Kopitske’s head and then fired.[1] Hirte said he then stabbed Kopitske twice. The second time, the knife plunged in so deep that Hirte had to use two hands to pull it out.[12] Before leaving, Hirte spotted Kopitske’s keys on the table, and slipped them into his pocket.

The Motive

In January 31, 2005 Hirte’s attorney said that Hirte had homosexual urges that intensified when he drank alcohol. Those urges, Boyle said, led to a sexual encounter between Hirte and Kopitske, after which Hirte’s rage over the encounter led him to return to Kopitske’s house and kill him. [13] Boyle said that Hirte could not explain the murder for months, until a forensic report suggested a possible sexual element to the crime.[12]. Hirte then “broke down” and told the story of what he said happened between him and Kopitzke.

“One of the torments he had,” Boyle told the jury about Hirte, was that ” he didn’t understand his own sexuality.”[8]

Hirte said that hours before the murder he had been sitting on top of his car, underneath a bridge, drinking alcohol and listening to Nirvana. He’d finished six malt liquors and 15 shots of vodka when Kopitske drove up in his car.[12] Hirte said Kopitzke flirted with him, and the two agreed to return to Kopitske’s house where Hirte performed oral sex on Kopitske.[13] According to Hirte, their encounter was consensual.[12]

Hirte testified that afterward he returned to his car and and fell asleep. When he awoke, he was sober and enraged about having had sex with another man. Hirte said he felt “just grossed out beyond belief, disappointed … [at] the proof of my imperfection that I had done these things.” He said he believed a homosexual act was not “not as bad as raping or torturing someone” but was worse than murder.

Expert witness for the defense, John Liccione, said that Hirte was in the middle of a psychotic depressive reaction, though he had no history of mental problems. Assistant District Attorney Michelle, emphasized that the sexual encounter did not come up until trial, asked Liccionne during cross examination if Hirte didn’t would rather have had his parents believe that he was a cold-blooded killer rather than a homosexual. Licionne answered that it would be very difficult for a teenager in a religious family to admit homosexual feelings or activities.[2]

Hirte’s parents believed their son’s story about a sexual encounter with Kopisk, and that he would have been willing to risk life imprisonment to keep that secret to himself.[12] Kopiski’s parents said later that there was no way the sexual encounter Hirte talked about had happened. [14]

District Attorney Bill Lennon doubted that the sexual encounter happened[12], and said that no forensic evidence suggested a sexual encounter.[15]


On February 4, 2005 the jury rejected Hirte’s insanity plea, resulting in a life sentence for Hirte.[16]

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