Florida says murderer’s sexuality relevant to his premeditated killing of another gay man
The Florida Supreme Court has unanimously rejected the final possible state appeal of a death sentence for Donald W. Dufour, a gay man convicted by a jury in the cold-blooded murder of another gay man in the course of a robbery in 1982.
Among the claims rejected by the court was Dufour’s contention that his case was prejudiced by the prosecution’s introduction of evidence about his homosexuality.
The court’s decision, in a case that has lingered for more than 20 years, was not attributed to any individual justice.
The court’s April 14 decision relates that the trial evidence included testimony by Stacey Sigler, Dufour’s “former girlfriend,” that he told her in September 1982 that he intended to “find a homosexual, rob and kill him,” and then he asked her to drop him off at a nearby bar and wait for him to call.
“About one hour later,” writes the court, “appellant called Sigler and asked her to meet him at his brother’s home. Upon her arrival, appellant was going through the trunk of a car she did not recognize, and wearing new jewelry. Both the car and the jewelry belonged to the victim.”
According to evidence offered by the prosecution, Dufour met the victim in the bar, drove with him to a nearby orange grove, robbed him and shot him twice, once in the back of the head and, “from very close range, through the back.”
Dufour told Sigler that he had killed a man and left him in an orange grove.
Two other prosecution witnesses, apparently members of a gang with whom Dufour associated, described by the court as his “close associates,” testified that Dufour told them he had shot a “homosexual from Tennessee in an orange grove with a .25 automatic and taken his car.”
Dufour was convicted by a jury two decades ago, and in the penalty hearing, evidence that Dufour had been convicted of first-degree murder once before in Mississippi, had been a heavy drug and alcohol abuser since childhood, had a sexually abusive father and an older brother who was gay and was himself sexually attracted to men was presented. Psychiatric testimony marked him as having anti-social behavior, showing little signs of a conscience and having average intelligence. The court-appointed psychiatrist found him mentally competent at the time of the offense and during his trial.
Dufour’s homosexuality became an issue since the main witness against him, Sigler, testified that he was specifically seeking out a gay man to rob and murder that night. During the penalty phase, Dufour’s straight brother, Gary, testified that Dufour had been “exposed to homosexuality by his brother George.” George refused to cooperate with Dufour’s trial lawyer or have anything to do with the defense, but Gary testified that Donald Dufour was gay, and another “close associate” testified that he “liked guys.”
Dufour was sentenced to death and exhausted his direct appeals, but raised a variety of new claims and won the right to a post-conviction evidentiary hearing. Gary, his gay brother, finally testified on this occasion, and described the alcoholism of their father and his violent episodes, Donald’s own problems with alcohol and drugs as well as his “homosexual lifestyle.” The court found that this testimony merely duplicated Gary’s testimony and didn’t change the state of the record.
In appealing this ruling, Dufour argued to the Florida Supreme Court that the testimony about his homosexuality prejudiced the case against him, but the court did not buy the argument, noting that much of it was introduced by his own defense witnesses and that the overwhelming evidence against him made it unlikely that prejudicial testimony had changed the outcome.
Florida courts, like those in most states, will entertain the argument that prosecution attempts to use a defendant’s sexuality to undermine his credibility or suggest that he has a criminal character are unfairly prejudicial. However, the courts also recognize that evidence about homosexuality can be “relevant to establish state of mind and motive.” The court found that, in light of Sigler’s testimony, “testimony pertaining to Dufour’s homosexuality was thus relevant to demonstrate motive or his state of mind at the time of the murder, and it was not directed to illuminate his character or propensity to engage in criminal conduct.”
Dufour has one last shot at trying to get the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in his case, but that seems most unlikely in light of the Florida court’s thorough and lengthy opinion.