Defense attorneys aren’t exactly known for their warm and cozy bedside manner, but the particularly nasty past antigay tactics of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court candidate have come back to haunt his current campaign.
In 1988, Claudia Brenner and her girlfriend, Rebecca Wight, were hiking along the Rocky Knob Trail in south-central Pennsylvania, when a deranged gunman opened fire on them, killing Rebecca and injuring Claudia.
The gunman, Stephen Roy Carr, was convicted of first-degree murder and is serving a life prison sentence.
His lawyer in the case was Mike George, who is now running for a seat on the PA Supreme Court.
While everyone is entitled to a legal defense, George’s tactic was to discredit Brenner and her deceased lover as wild, reckless lesbians who somehow incited the violence upon themselves.
George was banking on the idea that if he could turn the focus to Brenner’s sex life, he could persuade some of the jurors in conservative Adams County to wonder if the couple’s sexuality might have provoked Carr to commit the crime.
In essence, he was attempting to manipulate a “gay panic” to get his client a lighter sentence.
“In a way, we wanted to get the local folks talking more about the lesbianism than the murder,” George himself said in a book interview a decade later.
George asked Brenner questions like whether they were “fondling each other” or “feeling each other” and whether Wight had “her mouth on your genitals.”
Brenner is now an architect living in Ithaca, NY, and is troubled by the prospect of George becoming a state Supreme Court Justice.
Ted Martin, executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, a group that advocates for LGBT rights, feels similarly.
“He’s proven in the past that he is willing to use questionable and very negative tactics that revolve around a person’s sexual orientation to make his case, and I think that’s wrong,” Martin said. “It calls into question his ability to be fair and really understand all the sides.”
“Frankly, what Michael George did to Claudia Brenner is repulsive,” he added.
George, a Republican serving his second 10-year term as an Adams County Common Pleas judge, declined to comment to Philly.com on his role in the case.
But in a 1999 book called The Whole Truth? A Case of Murder on the Appalachian Trail, George said:
“I wanted to get her full story on the record. That meant a full story as to how many times the women were naked and how many times they engaged in lesbian sex. I wanted the graphic details. All of them.
I wanted it to look like these two women were bold with their lesbianism. That they didn’t hide their lesbianism from anybody, including my client. The more sexually reckless the women appeared, the better for Carr.”
George is one of seven candidates running for three seats on the bench.