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The LGBT Hate Crimes Project: Victor Manious

This entry is part 42 of 53 in the series lgbt hate crimes project

I wrote this yesterday:

Sometimes I’ll come across an article focusing on family and friends remembering the victim, and may be able to glean a little more information. But just as often, those friends and family may not have known — may have guessed or inferred, or may have assumed since they were not told — that their loved-one or their friend was gay. Co-workers who have worked beside the victim for years, friends and family who have known the victim even longer, may simply not have known who their friend and love-one really was. That is, until they become the victim of a hate crime.

That was the case with the murder of Victor Manious. When I filed away an article on Manious’ murder a couple of months ago, I intended to get back to it, and I did. But I didn’t expect to find so much information on the case, or to spend much time with it. But the more time I spent looking in to it, the more I was reminded of a few other stories, which raised some questions for me.

The main one being: How do you approach a story involving someone’s death (whether murder or suicide) if the circumstances of the story suggest that they were gay or lesbian, but the family vehemently denies even the possibility?

The circumstances are likely to sound familiar to gay men who know which details to look out for. When I wrote about Glenn Kopitske’s murder — which I’m now realizing somehow didn’t make the transition from Wikipedia to the new site; something I’ll have to remedy soon — so much about it sounded plausible for a gay man living in small, conservative, midwestern town.

Glenn Kopitske was adopted by Shirley and Virgil Kopitske, a couple who 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 monthly 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]

Kopitske’s murderer — a high school football player named Gary Hirte —claimed that the murder was fueled by rage after a sexual encounter with Kopitske.

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 Kopitske.

“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 Kopitske 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 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.

At the time, I wrote:

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.

Kopitske’s parents vehemently denied any possibility that their son might have gay, making it clear what they thought of homosexuality in the process. It dawned on me, if not on them, that the very reaction they had to the posthumous news of the possibility that their son might have been gay could also have been one of the reasons he kept it from them — perhaps one of the reasons he kept that secret from everyone in town, except those men who carried the same secret, until he met with one who couldn’t bear it.

Reading the Manious’ family’s objections to portrayals of him as gay reminded me of the Kopitskes.

“He was always very peaceful,” 22-year-old Yustina Manious said of her father. She spent the past two weeks listening to her father portrayed as having had a secret life of sexual encounters with other men, and even of being a violent sexual predator who died at the hands of a young man who told the jury he struck Manious with a bat after being sexually assaulted by the older man.

“I can’t imagine something like this was even said,” said Manious, who was at a church conference with her mother last July when her father was killed, stuffed into the trunk of his own car, which was abandoned on a downtown street. “I will never, ever believe it. Honestly, it’s an insult.”

…Manious’ brother-in-law, John Fahd, said Victor Manious was a servant of God, a lay leader in the Coptic Christian Church who came to Grand Rapids from Egypt three decades ago working for S. Abraham & Sons and spending the rest of his time at the church, puttering around his Gaines Township home or spending time with his family.

Fahd said Manious would help newly arrived families get settled in Grand Rapids, helping them find jobs and even providing them with food.

He said the traditions of his culture and the tenets of his church would not allow Victor Manious to be homosexual.

Where Kopitske was a beloved, if eccentric (and apparently asexual) member of his community, Manious was a pillar in his own, deeply involved in the Coptic Christian Church, including helping his congregation find a home. He helped members of his community through his church. His family was deeply involved in the church too. His wife and his adult daughter were out of town at a church conference on the weekend that Manious allegedly met Steven Scarborough at a gay bar, and somehow ended up in the apartment Scarborough shared with a roommate who may or may not have been bisexual, but had two night earlier men another man in a gay bar, and brought him home only to be attacked and robbed by Scarborough.

While Manious’ murderer changed his story several times — in one version Manious knocked him unconscious, in another version he was conscious — the only logical explanation for why Manious ended up in the apartment where police later found his DNA is that he either came there with Scarborough and was the victim of a robbery attempt that went too far, or he went to the apartment looking for Scarborough’s roomate — whom he’d known from … where, if not the local gay bar scene? — and met up with Scarborough instead.

Either way, he wouldn’t be the first married man who goes to gay bar when his wife and/or family are out of town. Nor will he be the last. In the cold light of morning, that’s just reality.

Still, it’s difficult dealing with stories in which there are not grieving families, but families whose grief is fresh and raw. They’re already dealing with the loss of someone they knew and loved. It can only hurt more to hear it suggested they they may not have known the person they love and have lost a swell as they thought they did.

I found this out when I blogged about the suicides of two teenage girls in my own county, including a suicide note that suggested a romantic relationship between them. The reaction was stronger than I expected, as people who knew the girls and knew the family found their way back to my post and were angry with me for suggesting the possibility, even with disclaimers that I didn’t know the girls, their families, or what went on in their lives, but that their story reminded me of others that were similar. Rather than engage in a debate, while the families and friends were still reeling from the news of their suicide, I decided not to post about the story any further, except for one final comment on my post before closing comments altogether.

What’s interesting to me is the reaction to suggesting a relationship between the two girls. If a heterosexual teenage couple had carried out a suicide pact, no one would think twice about mentioning their relationship. (Of course, a heterosexual couple probably wouldn’t have to keep their relationship a secret, unless their parents objected.) But for some reason, even if it seems obvious from the little we do know, we have to stop short of suggesting a relationship between the girls.

It’s almost as if mentioning the possibility of a relationship is “speaking ill of the dead.” Because there would be something wrong with them having a romantic relationship.

The flip side of the coin is often that when someone dies who is LGBT, that part of their lives is erased, ignored, or forgotten — like Essex Hemphill or Alan Rogers — but it’s no insult to omit who they were.

I don’t know how to deal with the the conflict, but I’m putting what happened to Victor Manious in the category of an anti-LGBT hate crime.

Victor Manious, (1946 – July 29, 2008)of Gaines Township, MI, on was murdered by Steve Scarborough, who claimed he killed Manious after the older man made sexual advances.

The Background

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Manious, 62, lived in Gaines Township, MI, with his wife and their adult daughter. He was active in and helped found the Saint Mina and Saint Mary Coptic Catholic Church1), and was a dedicated employee at S. Abraham and Sons, a conveience store product distributor where he’d worked for over 30 years.2) His family described him as a religious man, and a deacon in his church.3)

Scarborough, 21, had a history of stealing and fighting, according to his acquaintances. Scarborough fled Nashville and headed to Grand Rapids after a police report was filed claiming he’d stolen electronics from a woman who hired him to weed her yard.4) Police in Nashville, TN, confirmed a theft complaint filed against Scarborough there. Sources in Nashville claimed that Scarborough said he was planning to move to Texas, where he had a family.5)

The Murder

In a police interview, Scarborough claimed that he was sitting in the apartment of his friend Justin Robinson, when Manious entered the apartment. He said that Manious set his keys on the kitchen counter crossed to the living room where Scarborough sat on the couch, and asked if Robinson was at home. At the same time, Scarborough said Manious began removing his clothes. He claimed Manious stripped down to his underwear and then tried to kiss him, and grabbed at him, all while repeatedly asking for Robinson.

Scarborough said he was “freaked out” by Manious’ advances, hit him with a bat, dragged his body down some stairs, put him in the trunk of his car, and left it parked on Ottawa Avenue. At the time, Scarborough claimed that Robinson had nothing to do with the crime.6)

Manious’ family reported him missing after he failed to show up at work.7) Manious’ family was out of town when the assault happened, on July 29, and his car was tracked down by his widow through parking tickets which had been issued to the illegally parked vehicle.8)

The Discovery

In later court testimony, Manious’ wife, Soheil, said that she was out of town on the weekend of July 29, at a church conference with her daughter. She returned home on Sunday afternoon to find that her husband was not there, and called the Kent County Sheriff’s Department. She was told that deputies would be on the lookout. The next day she received a call from Grand Rapids Parking Authority, that the couple’s Toyota Camry was illegally parked on Ottawa Avenue NW. She and her brother drove to Ottawa Avenue and found the car parked facing the wrong way, with all of the windows open. Her brother opened the trunk and discovered Manious’ body.9)

Manious’ body was found in the trunk of his own car, illegally parked on Ottawa Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids, MI. An autopsy revealed that Manoius died from blunt force trauma. Police Searched Manious’ home, removing two bags of evidence and a computer from the home.10) Grand Rapids police confirmed that the case was a homicide investigation at that point.11)

The Aftermath

After Manious’ death, Scarborough went on a shopping spree with the dead man’s credit cards, and bought a plane ticket to Texas.12)Scarborough and Robinson’s neighbor, at their Kalamazoo Avenue apartment, said the two men were acting strange the last week in July. She said Scarborough told her a man came by the apartment to rob him, and Scarborough attacked him with a baseball bat. The neighbor said she saw a lot of blood in the parking lot, and a smashed window in the apartment. A neighbor across the told detectives that he saw two men in the parking lot with a flashlight, and that they took off running when they found something on the ground.13)

Robinson told police that he had seen the name “Vicor” on the credit cards, which Scarborough said had been given to him by a girlfriend. The night before Manious’ death, he and Scarborough had fought with some “Peruvian guys” they met at a “gay bar.” The men would later testify to having been victims of an attempted robbery by Scarborough.14)

The Kent County prosecutor’s office issued a warrant for Scarborough, for tealing/retaining a financial transaction device without consent, for using Manious’ credit card. A warrant was then issued for Scarborough’s arrest in Manious’ murder. On August 6, 2007, Scarborough was arrested in Houston, TX.15) On August 14, Scarborough waived his right to an extradition hearing in Texas, and returned to Michigan to face charges in Manious’ murder.16)

On August 22, 2007, Scarborough was arraigned in a Kent County court, and held in the Kent Count jail afterward.17)

Scarborough’s Trial

During Scarborough’s trial, on March 27,2008, jurors heard from the State Police DNA expert that Manious’ DNA matched stains found on and beneath a couch from the Kalamazoo Avenue apartment where Scarborough was staying, as well as on a vehicle steering wheel and a pair of jeans taken from the apartment.

Robinson’s neighbor testified that she saw the Toyota Camry in which Manious’ body was found, backed up to the stairs near her apartment. She also testified that she saw both the Camry and Scarborough’s truck gone at the same time that morning. She said that day Scarborough bragged about taking the car of someone who tried to rob him, and that she saw to Robinson wearing a new shirt police said Scarborough bought with Manious’ credit card.18)

As part of the “gay panic defense,” Scarborough’s defense, Paul Denenfed. attorney tried to suggest that Robinson played a major role in Manious’ murder, and that there was a connection between Manious and Robinson. Denenfeld told jurors that Robinson was bisexual, and that Manious’ had been with him in the apartment previously. He said that Manious’ was desperate to hide his “gay lifestyle” from his family — who were out of town the weekend of his encounter with Scarborough— and was “on the prowl” the night of his encounter with Scarborough. He said that earlier that night Manious had “hit on” a young man who did lawn maintenance in the Gaines Township neighborhood, inviting him over for drinks.19)

Under cross examination during the trial, Robinson claimed that he was asleep when the murder happened and that — although he picked Manious out of line-up, saying he looked like a Peruvian man Robinson had been in a fight with earlier — he’d never met Manious. Robinson’s girlfriend testified to Robinson’s use of Manious’ credit cards, which he said were given to him by a girlfriend he met while bar-hopping, and identified the blood-stained t-shirt and jeans Scarborough had worn on the day after Manious was murdered. She also testified to that Robinson was in bed with her the entire night of the assault.20)

Peruvian immigrant Carlos Barbaran testified that Scarborough attacked him and two of his friends, two nights before Manious’ death. Barbaran, who is married, said the he was bar-hopping with two friends on the night of July 27, and they ended up at Rumor’s, a gay bar in downtown Grand Rapids. There they met Robinson, who asked for a ride home. Barbaran took one of his friends home, and then they arrived at Robinson’s apartment. Once there, Barbaran said that Scarborough and another man appeared, became aggressive and beat them him up as he tried to get back to his car. He said that Scarborough was the main aggressor, and that after beating him the men took $300 from him, along with his credit cards and his green card. Barbaran denied that any sexual advances were made, as well as the Denenfeld’s claim that he returned to Robinson’s apartment for cocaine.21)

Under oath, Scarborough repeated variations on the story he initially told police, but maintained that he’d hit Manious with a baseball bat, after after being knocked unconscious by Manious, and waking up to find the 62-year-old performing oral sex on him. Scarborough claimed he told investigators about the sexual assault, but that they were uninterested.Near the end of the interview, Scarborough told police that Manious didn’t knock him unconscious, but did force him onto a couch and grope him.22) He also said that he’d been sleep deprived and denied epilepsy medicine to control his grand mal seizures.23)

Though he initially said that Robinson — his friend and roommate of seven weeks, who’d been introducing him to to Grand Rapids’ bar scene —had nothing to do with the crime, Scarborough’s story changed on he witness stand. He testified that Robinson returned to the apartment soon after the assault, and together they hatched a plan to put Manious in the trunk of his car and drive him to Ottawa Avenue. Robinson told Scarborough to keep his name out of it, and to create phony phone messages that would give Robinson an alibi.24)

Scarborough testified that he and Robinson carried Manious down a flight of stairs and placed him in the trunk of his own car. They parked the car on Ottawa St. NW, and went back to clean up the apartment, stopping to get something to eat and do some shopping with Manious’ credit cards on the way.25)

Though Scarborough told an FBI agent that he saw Manious’ mouth moving and heard him breathing, he said in court he thought Manious was dead before he was placed in the trunk. He said he found Manious’ wallets and credit cards after parking the car with Manious in the trunk.26)

The Manious Family’s Reaction

During the trial, Manious’ family rejected portrayals of their husband and father as living a secret ga life. Assistant prosecutor Helen Brinkman told the jury during the trial that Manious had been out at a gay bar while his family was away, on the weekend of his murder, and Scarborough lured him back to Robinson’s apartment to rob him. She said that Manious looked “rich and gay,” and that such men — hoping to keep their sexuality a secret — are less likely to report being robbed.

Manious’ wife, Soheir, denied that her husband could have been gay. His brother-in-law, John Fahd pointed out Manious’ involvement in the local Coptic Christian church, and said the traditions of his culture and religion would not allow Manoius’ to be homosexual. Both the defense and prosecution, however, said they talked to more than one person who had a gay relationship or had been a same-sex romantic interest of Manious’.27)

Sentencing and Verdict

On April 9, 2008, the jury began deliberations on whether Scarborough had beaten Manious to death in an attempted robbery, and kidnapped him by placing him in the trunk of his car and leaving him to die, or had acted to fend off sexual advances or a sexual attack by Manious.28)

On April 10, 2008, Scarborough was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter in Manious’ death. Scarborough was accused of luring Manious to Robinson’s apartment in order to rob him.

On May 22, 2008, Scarborough was sentenced to 19-60 years in prison for the Manious’ murder. The judge exceeded the sentencing guidelines for the jury’s manslaughter conviction, and order Scarborough sent to prison for no less than 19 years and no more than 60. Scarborough also had to pay funeral expenses to Manious’ family, and $1,000 for his extradition to Texas.29)

Series NavigationThe LGBT Hate Crimes Project: Steve DomerThe LGBT Hate Crimes Project: Walking in Memphis, Pt. 1 – Tiffany Berry

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