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BC judge says gay panic defence no longer valid

Judge rejects murderer’s claim that victim tried to rape him

“In this day and age I do not consider it likely that ‘homosexual panic’ will often, if ever, provide a valid basis upon which to find provocation,” BC Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Arnold-Bailey ruled June 30.  Credit: Thinkstock

A BC Supreme Court judge has strongly condemned the gay-panic defence in rejecting a Port Alberni man’s second attempt to use it to justify killing a man he met online.

Three years ago, a jury convicted Kim Winslow Rothgordt after he met 52-year-old James Shannon through the Plenty of Fish website, then murdered him. Rothgordt maintained throughout the case that the meeting was his first homosexual experience despite his forays onto Plenty of Fish seeking gay men.

Rothgordt, a 200-pound trained boxer, told the court that he had been attacked and raped by Shannon, who was five-foot-seven and weighed 163 pounds.

“It cannot be suggested in this case that Mr Rothgordt experienced a moment of ‘homosexual panic’ in the face of sexual advances towards him by Mr Shannon,” BC Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Arnold-Bailey ruled in upholding the jury’s conviction June 30.

The judge partially rejected Rothgordt’s argument based on “his activities in seeking males for sex on POF and the content of his POF messages with Mr Shannon prior to their date.”

“Moreover,” she ruled, “in this day and age I do not consider it likely that ‘homosexual panic’ will often, if ever, provide a valid basis upon which to find provocation.”

Rothgordt was sentenced to life in prison without parole for 20 years on April 26, 2011. There was no hate designation in the case, Crown prosecutor Gordon Baines told Xtra at the time.

Police found a hammer, Shannon’s bedroom was covered in blood, pieces of his skull were found near the body, and a knife was protruding from his abdomen.

Police testified that Rothgordt was a prolific user of Plenty of Fish, maintaining two separate profiles, one for contacting men and another for women.

Rothgordt appealed his 2011 conviction, and a new trial was ordered in BC Supreme Court in January 2013. In ordering the new trial, the appeal court found there was “no dispute that the appellant killed Mr Shannon” but said the first judge’s jury instructions confused two defence issues.

Rothgordt maintained in the second trial that he killed Shannon after Shannon came after him with a belt to asphyxiate him and then sodomized him with a wine bottle.

Arnold-Bailey rejected that evidence: “I have found that Mr Rothgordt’s versions of events contained in his many conflicting statements to be fictitious insofar as he claimed to be sodomized or raped by Mr Shannon or forced to engage in other forms of sexual conduct against his will, when the evidence proves beyond any reasonable doubt that he sodomized himself with a wine bottle after Mr Shannon was dead.”

“Mr Rothgordt delivered a total of at least 11 separate blows to Mr Shannon, 10 of which landed in the area of the left side of his head and in the area of his neck and throat, with one blow to his left shoulder,” Arnold-Bailey ruled. “To repeatedly strike a target in this manner indicates to the court that Mr Rothgordt was capable of focused, directed action on a repeated basis; and, also part way through delivering these blows, he made the conscious decision to manipulate the head of the hammer to change which surface was impacting with Mr Shannon.”

Pathologist Dr Craig Litwin testified that Shannon took six blunt-force injuries to his skull, which resembled “the shell of a hardboiled egg that had been struck by a spoon.”

After leaving Shannon’s house, the court was told, Rothgordt called his son, Ryley Lockwood. Rothgordt wanted Lockwood to burn Shannon’s house to destroy evidence. Lockwood refused and Rothgordt threatened to kill him. Lockwood said his father “got a bit angry again of what happened at the guy, calling the guy a puke, and a worthless piece of shit and all that.”

Lockwood said Rothgordt then attacked Shannon’s body with a knife. He said when his father came out he was “adrenalized, very excited.”

Lockwood said that his father was “just saying how the guy’s a disgusting slob and just — and he said how he slammed candles in the guy’s eyes.” He told his father that he needed to call the police. His father’s response was that if Lockwood said anything to police, he would kill him. Lockwood also testified that his father never indicated that the man was going to rape him or tried to rape him.

“Jim deserved what happened to him,” Rothgordt told police, the court heard.