Volume 75, Number 33 | August 18 – 24, 2005
Gay Panic’ Slay Rap Upheld
Massachusetts high court rejects killer claiming prison rape as motive
The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts unanimously affirmed a first-degree murder conviction in a case where the defendant unsuccessfully presented a “homosexual panic” defense.
Justice Robert J. Cordy wrote the opinion issued by the court on August 9, upholding the conviction of Christopher Cutts for the 1998 murder of John Gallina in Springfield. Cutts claimed he acted out of a compulsion sparked by having been raped in prison years earlier.
According to Cordy’s opinion, Gallina, 47, and Cutts, then 31, were drug buddies who smoked crack together. Statements Cutts had made to police after being apprehended, statements he made to others admitted at the trial, and forensic evidence convinced the jury that Cutts had murdered Gallina in Gallina’s home sometime between March 9 and March 13, 1998, when the body was found by a childhood friend who entered the house after Gallina had failed to answer phone calls for several days. The jury found that Cutts was capable of understanding what he was doing at the time.
Cutts told police that he and Gallina were both high on crack cocaine in Gallina’s kitchen when Gallina, who was gay, tried to initiate sex with him. Claiming to have experienced “a flashback about prison and about when I was raped,” according to Cordy’s summary, Cutts admitted to police that when Gallina turned his back, he wrapped a white rope around the gay man’s throat, struck him in the head twice with a vise, and then pushed a gear shift into his ear. Stealing Gallina’s TV and stereo and attempting to set fire to his house, Cutts left his victim to die. Cutts then sold the stolen goods for crack money and fled the state.
The coroner ruled that the cause of death was the head-bashing.
Cutts stated he had been raped at knife-point by fellow inmates for several days while in prison for a prior attempted murder conviction. Two psychiatric experts testified at his trial that he suffered from “homosexual panic,” a form of paranoia that could be enhanced by crack cocaine resulting in his violent response.
According to Cordy, Dr. Gerald Kochansky, a clinical psychologist who examined Cutts prior to trial, testified that the defendant “was suffering from borderline personality disorder, with psychopathic narcissistic and antisocial features.” Cutts acted, he said, out of “homosexual panic… an intense state of anxiety and fear in the face of what is experienced as the threat of a homosexual attack.” Kochansky also testified that cocaine use “would intensify his vigilant and paranoid stance, and it would have a disinhibiting effect on his impulse control.”
On cross-examination, however, Kochansky conceded that these mental disorders “did not adversely affect [Cutts’] ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of his acts.”
Dr. Thomas Gutheil, a forensic psychiatrist, reached a similar diagnosis. He testified that persons such as Cutts “can get into a situation where they are frightened by anything that even resembles a push for intimacy by someone making an advance to them.”
Dr. Martin Kelly, a psychiatrist who was a state rebuttal witness, testified that “Cutts had an antisocial personality disorder, but no mental disease or defect that affected his capacity to form the specific intent to kill or do grievous bodily injury.”
The jury apparently found Kelly’s testimony the more persuasive.
Hampden County Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ford sentenced Cutts to life in prison without parole.
Cutts appealed his conviction, claiming he had received ineffective representation by his trial attorney, but his argument was rejected. Cutts was unhappy that the attorney failed to object when evidence of his previous incarceration was introduced in his trial, but Cordy pointed out that his claim of prison rape was integral to his homosexual panic defense, which the high court found a reasonable trial strategy.
Still such defenses are controversial and many courts have found that a so-called “homosexual panic” reaction to a sexual advance is not a legally valid excuse for the use of deadly force in the absence of unusual circumstances. This defense is also difficult in cases in which only the victim and the defendant were present, though some defendants have tried to establish a pattern of sexual advances on the part of their victim to bolster their claim. In this case, there was no such evidence, and Cutts did not testify in his defense, so his credibility may have been questioned.
Cutts requested a lawyer but did not receive one when arrested, so he also argued that his statement to the police about his prison rape should have been excluded at trial, but the fact that he made one phone call, but chose not to contact an attorney led the court to conclude his statement was not “involuntary.”
Cutts never denied having killed Gallina, but argued that the provocation and his mental state should have excused his actions. The jury disagreed, and ultimately the appellate court found no serious fault with the trial.