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BC Court of Appeal rejects gay-panic defence

Ruling upholds conviction of man who claims he broke blind man’s jaw in self-defence

The BC Court of Appeal has upheld a 2012 conviction of a man who claims he broke a blind gay man’s jaw and fractured his skull in self-defence. Credit: Thinkstock

The BC Court of Appeal rejected a gay-panic defence July 7 when it unanimously upheld the 2012 conviction of a man who assaulted a blind gay man in Prince George.

Michael Allan Richter was found guilty of aggravated assault against William Groeneveld on Dec 11, 2011, in McBride, BC.

Both men were in the McBride Hotel bar the night of the assault. Witnesses said Richter was belligerent as he left the bar at approximately 2am and visibly intoxicated on alcohol and cocaine.

Groeneveld also left the bar, using his cane to feel the curb. He asked a man for a ride to his home, took his arm and allowed himself to be led to a vehicle that he got into. The vehicle drove several blocks, then slid off the road, coming to rest with its nose and passenger’s side tilted down.

Getting out, Groeneveld took the man’s arm and they proceeded to walk together along the road.

Groeneveld testified that shortly after they began walking, the man suddenly pulled his arm away and began behaving in a bizarre manner, thrashing around violently and making strange moaning or grunting noises, according to the court ruling.

Groeneveld put his arms around the man twice in an effort to calm him. He testified that he felt the man rub his crotch from side to side against his own crotch. He said he felt what he believed to be an erection although acknowledged he may have felt the man’s fist in his pants.

Groeneveld interpreted the man’s behaviour as a sexual invitation. With one hand he grabbed the man’s buttock, and with his other hand he grabbed his genital area.

He was then struck violently three times, twice on the left side of his face, and his cane was somehow broken.

Richter claimed the situation was a struggle over the cane, but Groeneveld denied attempting to strike the man. His next recollection was of being in Prince George hospital.

Groeneveld suffered severe physical injuries, including a broken jaw, facial fractures to the right side of his head and a depressed skull fracture. He now has metal in his head and face and difficulties with his jaw and teeth, which required extensive rehabilitation.

At trial, Richter, who has a lengthy criminal record, argued that the blows on Groeneveld were justified force exercised in self-defence. But the BC Supreme Court trial judge found the force used was far beyond what could reasonably or conceivably be considered necessary.

The appeal court agreed. “Even if there is some merit in Mr Richter’s submission that the first two blows were an unthinking reaction to a sexual assault, I can see no basis in Mr Groeneveld’s description of the events that followed that would justify their description as a ‘violent struggle over control of the cane,’” Justice Peter Willcock said in the ruling.

The trial judge sentenced Richter to 42 months of imprisonment minus 15 months for time served.