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The LGBT Hate Crimes Project: John Lloyd Griffin & Tommy Lee Trimble

This entry is part 26 of 53 in the series lgbt hate crimes project

Like the case of Nick Moraida in Corpus Christi, TX, when I came across the case of John Lloyd Griffin and Tommy Lee Trimble, I didn’t get their names right away. Instead, I found stories about the guy who shot and killed them — Richard Lee Bednarski — and the Judge — Jack Hampton — who gave their killer 30 years instead of a life sentence, because he killed a couple of “queers.” But, like other victims, their names were nearly buried under an avalanche of news stories about their killer and events in the aftermath of their deaths. Maybe that’s why I named the entry about their deaths after them, even though I found more information about the killer and the judge.

I still remembered the case and even the name of the killer, just under 20 years after it happened, because of how the case impacted me when I first heard about it all those years ago. It came a couple of years after the Bowers v. Hardwick decision from the Supreme Court, and the reason I pair the two stories in my mind is because the first one seemed to divorce people like me from the U.S. constitution, and the second one exemplified the mindset behind the Bowers decision, based on Judge Jack Hampton’s words.

A judge here has said he gave an 18-year-old murderer a more lenient sentence than prosecutors had sought because the two victims were homosexual and, the judge said, they would not have been killed “if they hadn’t been cruising the streets picking up teen-age boys.”

“I put prostitutes and gays at about the same level,” he said, “and I’d be hard put to give somebody life for killing a prostitute.” He said he stood by his decision to impose a 30-year sentence rather than life in prison on the defendant, Richard Lee Bednarski. “I did what I thought was right,” he said.

…This afternoon Judge Hampton said in an interview that he had received death threats and the police had advised him to leave Dallas for his safety.

In explaining the Nov. 19 sentence to The Times Herald, Judge Hampton said: “I don’t care much for queers cruising the streets. I’ve got a teen-age boy.”

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And if there’s any doubt that the judge was saying plainly that the lives of two gay men were worth less than the lives of any other citizens, he said that too. Just as plainly and bluntly as before.

Hampton said he might have given the murderer a lengthier sentence if he had killed “a couple of housewives out shopping, not hurting anybody.”

This was years a before the “culture war” was declared by Pat Buchanan at the 1992 Republican convention, but it was a war that was — if undeclared — already underway as judge Hampton’s remarks clearly indicated. And in any war, the lives of enemy combatants are worthless because they are worth less than the lies of actual citizens.

In 1988 in Texas, Judge Jack Hampton sentenced a convicted murderer of two homosexuals to 30 years in prison, announcing as he did: “I put prostitutes and gays at about the same level, and I’d be hard put to give somebody life for killing a prostitute.” The ultimate expression of his shocking admission is the fact that not one killer of a black person has been put to death in California in the modern era.

One lesson of war is that if we can objectify our enemies as worth less than us, then we can kill them. It could be prostitutes, as it was for the young man interested in Jack the Ripper; it could be gays as it was for that Texas judge. It could be Arabs or Jews or homeless or … you fill in the blank. The sad truth is that as long as we classify groups of people under labels that strip them of their individual worth — whether it’s the Crips labeling their victims as “enemies,” or the state labeling its victims as “gang bangers,” etc. — we can dispose of them.

There was no evidence presented at Bednarski’s trial that Griffin or Trimble solicited sex from the young men who got into their car that night, and witnesses at the trial stated that the nine young men went out that evening to “pester the homosexuals” and the Bednarski and another teenager got into the car with the express purpose of beating up John Lloyd Griffin and Tommy Lee Trimble. I get the feeling that if Judge Hampton could have given Bednarski — who distanced himself from the judge’s comments — a medal instead of a prison sentence, he would have done so.

And the hate crimes bill that currently sits on the desk of former Texas governor George W. Bush would give federal agencies the ability to step in on cases where state and local law enforcement are not up to the task of investigating anti-LGBT hate crimes and prosecuting them to the fullest extent of the law.

John Lloyd Griffin & Tommy Lee Trimble, two gay men, were shot and killed in Dallas, TX, on May 15, 1988, by teenagers seeking to “pester the homosexuals.” One of their killers, Richard Lee Bednarski later received a 30 year sentence from a judge who said leniency was in order because Bednarski had killed two homosexuals.

The Background

On May 15, 1988, Bednarski and a group of his friends set out on to harass homosexuals. Witnesses said that nine boys, including Trimble, were standing on a streetcorner in the Oak Lawn section of Dallas, when Griffin and Trimble drove up and invited the boys into their car. There was no evidence presented at trial that the Griffin and Trimble solicited sex from their attackers. Bednarski was said to have persuaded one more friend from his group to get into the car.1)
The Attack

After the car reached Reverchon Park, a witness said Bednarski ordered Trimble and Griffin to remove their clothes. When they refused, Bednarski withdrew a pistol and immediately began firing. Trimble died immediately. Griffin died five days later.2)

The Aftermath

Sentencing

On December 17, 1988, The Dallas Morning News reported that judge Jack Hampton sentenced Bednarski to 30 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of murder, a charge that carried the possibility of a life sentence. Judge Hampton, in an interview after the sentencing hearing said he gave Bednarski a lenient sentence because the victims were homosexuals who wouldn’t have been killed “if they hadn’t been cruising the streets picking up teenage boys.”

Hampton added that he might have given Bednarski a harsher sentence if he had killed “a couple of housewives out shopping, not hurting anybody.”3)

Hampton went on to say, “I put prostitutes and gays at about the same level, and I’d be hard pressed to give someone life for killing a prostitute.” Hampton added that in making his sentencing decision he also considered that Bednarski had no criminal record, was attending college, and was raised in a good home by a father who is a police officer.

The prosecutor asked for a life sentence and the defense asked for a five year sentence after the jury found Bednarski guilty. Texas law at the time allowed the defendant to decide whether the jury or the judge would set the sentence. Bednarski opted to have Judge Hampton decide his sentence, believing that the judge would be more sympathetic than the jury.

Bednarski would be eligible for parole in 7 1/2 years. In a television interview, when asked his opinion about Hampton’s statement, said “That is his own opinion. I don’t happen to agree with it.4)

In response to the outraged response of gay activists and community organizations to his ruling, Hampton told The Times-Herald, “Just spell my name right. If it makes anybody mad, they’ll forget by 1990.” Hampton was due to face re-election in 1990.5)

On December 20, 1988, about 200 people took part in a rally outside the Dallas County Courthouse, calling for Hampton’s ouster.6)

Hampton Censured

In December 1989, the Texas Civil Liberties Union, the Texas Human Rights Foundation, the National Lawyers Guild, and the Lesbian Gay Rights Lobby of Texas filed a complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct concerning Hampton’s comments.7)

On Novemver 29, 1989, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct censured Hampton. The Commission said that Hampton’s remarks violatd the judicial code prohibiting comment on a pending case and requiring judges to promote confidence in the judiciary. The censure order read:8)

“The commission finds that Judge Hampton’s comments, per se, were destructive of public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. The hostility and distrust generated by this judge’s irresponsible statements created an additional burden for the entire judiciary.”

Hampton Defeated

In December 1994, Judge Hampton narroly lost and appeals court election to Judge Barbara Rosenberg, a Democrat. Rosenberg campaigned on a fairness theme, and referred to Hampton’s earlier censure in her television ads.9)

Series NavigationThe LGBT Hate Crimes Project: Kenneth Cummings Jr.The LGBT Hate Crimes Project: Fred Mangione

4 Comments

  1. I cannot get too angry about this case, in a way. The judge feels about gays and lesbians and prostitutes the way I feel about right-wing Texans. If this makes me a bad person, then I have to live with that.

  2. I can and have remained angry over this case for 20 years. John and Coco were good friends of mine. It,s scary to think we are not considered to be a person of worth because a judge(?) is able to put his personal and biased views and opinions ahead of a what should have been justice for 2 murder victims. He said John and Coco were out cruising for teenage boys but who was really out cruising for gays? Also why were they(the men)(I thought you were an adult at 18,but in this case the judge seemed to think they were “boys”) in this section of town? He said he did what he “thought” was right. I dont believe he thought at all. Maybe,God forbid, something like this will happen to one of your family members who may not be a straight,white,male,Christian. Who will be there for them? Will you want justice for them or do you want some racial, bigoted, uncaring, unthinking judge to put his own little personal views on the verdict and sentence and do as he “thinks” is right? People need to be louder and be heard and vote/demand these kind of people get out of offices/positions that they clearly do not need to be in. One cannot simply sit around and hope someone else will make it happen or that it will go away on it,s own.

  3. Do we know if Richard Bednarski is out on parole yet? That would be a shame it he is.

  4. I remember this vividly. I went to high school with all three of the guys who were involved in the shooting. Two of them (D_____ S_______ and R____ M________) were always really sadistic guys. D_____ sat next to me in a couple of classess and harassed me constantly (I am a femme gay man and he loved to aggravate me). I was always afraid of him. As for Rick, I also sat next to him in a class. He was always very quiet and rather nice, shy even. I would help him out in class and never perceived any animosity. His actions really shocked me. To this day, I believe that he did it not out of any hate toward gay people, but solely to try to prove himself to the other two guys who just had this manipulative, evil aura…..peer pressure gone wrong. Even when they were arrested at school and taken from class, it seemed that people already knew why. I think they bragged about it. It was a horrible thing, and I remember my horror at people’s gossip. It wasn’t that they had killed two guys. The concensus on the gossip headline was “Ya, they killed two fags…”. Was sort of an eye opener to me as to how people can rationalize and dismiss murder so readily when it happens to “undesirables”. All the other students at school acted as if the tragedy was them being arrested.

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