Michael Saga Maiava was convicted Jan 4 of first-degree murder in the 2004 beating and stabbing death of gay Seattle businessman Kevin Shaw.
Shaw’s body was found wrapped in sheets and a garbage bag in the front passenger seat of his Porsche on Seattle’s Beacon Hill on Oct 21, 2004.
According to a Seattle Police Department (SPD) report, Shaw’s body “bore the marks of a severe beating and strangulation.” The report goes on to say that Shaw’s back was broken, that he “sustained blunt force trauma to his head, face, and body,” and that he “suffered a penetrating wound to his skull” from an ice pick.
Phone records for Shaw’s residential and cellular lines indicate he and Maiava made contact through a gay chatline.
Maiava’s phone records show calls made to Shaw on the morning of Oct 18, 2004, the date of the victim’s last known communication.
At his sentencing hearing, scheduled for Jan 29, Maiava faces a possible 572 months–47 years–in prison, according to King County, Seattle prosecutor Jeff Baird.
Baird suggests “any reasonable person can say this is a hate crime,” but says he pursued “a simpler direct case of premeditated murder” rather than to try to “prove more than the facts would warrant” in a case in which there were no eyewitnesses.
He says he believes Maiava was motivated by “a desire and need to inflict pain,” noting also that the convicted man was “adamant above all about not being seen as gay” in both his conversations with law enforcement and court filings from his defence attorney.
Calls to several Seattle-based queer and queer-friendly organizations reveal a lack of awareness of the verdict against Maiava, and in some cases, any recollection of Shaw’s murder.
Public information coordinator for the Seattle Office for Civil Rights, Elliot Bronstein, admits that “this one never crossed our radar at all.
“I vaguely recall the murder itself, but it never surfaced in the mainstream press. If there was a gay angle, it was not seen as a hate crime presumably because it involved people who knew one another,” he says. “If it [was motivated by hate] we would have known. That would have come our way.”
Connie Burk of the Northwest Network of Bi, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Survivors of Abuse declined to comment on whether her organization was monitoring the case or to characterize how media and the authorities had handled it. She contends, however, the invisibility of queer people poses a difficulty for many institutions that are set up to respond to hate crimes.
She notes that Washington state only recently passed legislation that would protect queer people from discrimination in public housing, employment and accommodation; a law, she adds, that is already under threat of being rolled back.
“It’s difficult to be out, to access support, to be visible and to have robust support networks,” she explains.
Seattle Gay News managing editor Robert Rakkety acknowledges that initially there was little discussion in Seattle’s queer community about Shaw’s murder because the “facts were not known to the public and it took four months to identify a suspect.”
He notes that there was also some concern among Shaw’s friends about revealing the victim’s sexual identity to the public out of concern for his family and business. But, Rakkety contends that Shaw “was known to frequent gay chatlines for a variety of reasons.
“Once the details became known, there was a clear sense of anger [in the community] that Maiava committed this crime against gay and lesbian persons, that this murder could have happened to anyone,” he continues. “Many in the community visit gay chatlines, and gay.com. I think to myself that it could as easily have been me as Kevin.”
Rakkety calls Shaw’s murder “a disturbing event that causes us to think about how we meet people and live our lives.”
For Becka Tilsen, program co-coordinator of Seattle’s Home Alive, an anti-violence non-profit organization, the fact that Shaw was “so brutally killed” by a perpetrator who brought up sexuality and sex identity repeatedly in his statements of defence, suggests that Shaw’s sexual orientation played a role in the Maiava’s motivation to kill.
Tilsen, who also was not aware that Maiava had been convicted, adds:
“I think it would behoove the legal system to unpack those situations with more analysis of the covert and subtle ways homophobia motivates behavior. Certainly somebody can be motivated by hate, homophobia, racism, sexism, xenophobia, immigrant oppression and not disclose it.
“It is frustrating for us in the community who are doing social change work that there isn’t more awareness around stopping hate that doesn’t involve waving a Nazi flag or doesn’t use epithets,” she continues. “You can perpetrate a hate crime without epithets or overt disclosure of your bigotry.”
Baird says, but for Shaw’s gender and the extraordinary violence done to the body in this instance, the case is not different from violent crimes he’s prosecuted by men against women. He admits he is taken aback by the apparent lack of concern in both straight and queer communities about what he sees as the dangerous practice of meeting people anonymously over internet and telephone chatlines.
“I am somewhat surprised that the gay community wasn’t more obviously concerned about vulnerability to predatory behavior,” he says. “This case made me realize that people who meet anonymously over sex chatlines are extremely vulnerable to predatory sociopaths.
“Whether in the straight or gay community, there didn’t seem to be any sort of acknowledgement that it is extra dangerous to rendezvous anonymously with someone over the internet,” he continues. “It’s easier in some ways for the sociopath than picking people up on the streets because of the secrecy. It struck me that we are lucky this does not happen more often. It’s a very easy way to get away with murder.”
Rakkety agrees it’s wise for everyone to remain vigilant and “to practice an abundance of caution when using internet and phone chatlines,” but asserts that in this age, the use of such forms of communication is not going to change and will undoubtedly continue to grow in the future.
“We’ll need to develop strategies to keep ourselves safe on chatlines and be aware of the danger that lurks on the other side of the screen or phone line. What happened to Shaw, could have happened to any one of us.”
Asked about some of the ways people can protect themselves from becoming victims when hooking-up anonymously, Tilsen says it’s important for people to enlist support or buddy systems and to engage in safety planning. She says, however, that having a list of dos and don’ts can be problematic.
It’s preferable to “elicit suggestions from people, rather than us being the experts bringing the best advice,” she says. “We want people to engage in changing their own lives [Having a list of dos and don’ts] can send an oppressive message. When we get involved in behavior modification of people who could be potential victims then we participate in victim blaming. If they don’t do one of the dos and or do one of the don’ts it takes the focus off of the perpetrators.”