A former civilian police employee in Austin, Texas, will reportedly serve six months in jail for fatally stabbing his neighbor in 2015 after, he claimed, the victim made a pass at him and then became angry about being rebuffed.
In addition to his jail time, James Miller was sentenced on Wednesday to a decade of probation for criminally negligent homicide in the Sept. 21, 2015, death of Daniel Spencer, according to the Austin American-Statesman and local TV station KVUE. Miller was 67 at the time of the killing. Spencer was 32.
Miller will also have to perform 100 hours of community service, wear an alcohol monitoring device for a year and pay more than $10,000 in restitution to Spencer’s family, the American-Statesman reports.
He had faced between two and 10 years in prison after being convicted on Tuesday, according to the American-Statesman. He was found not guilty of the more serious charges of murder and manslaughter.
Local TV station KXAN reports that Judge Brad Urrutia added the six-month jail stint, the maximum possible, to the jury’s recommended sentence of parole.
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Authorities say that, more than two years later, it remains unclear what exactly led to Spencer’s death — perhaps complicating the jury’s ability to settle on a verdict. Prosecutors said Spencer “was killed by [Miller] for no good reason,” according to KXAN.
According to the American-Statesman, jurors said last week they were in a stalemate after deliberating for nine hours, but then reached a decision about an hour later.
Miller’s defense reportedly argued that he acted to protect himself when he stabbed Spencer, a film editor who had relocated from Los Angeles, while the two were in Spencer’s home drinking and playing music.
Miller testified that Spencer allegedly came onto him but was rejected and became angry, according to the American-Statesman.
“He had height advantage over me, arm length over me, youth over me,” Miller said. “I felt he was going to hurt me.”
However, Miller testified that he and Spencer did not actually fight before the stabbing, the Austin paper reports. Spencer’s family disputed this version of events and said he was not gay.
Miller turned himself into police not long after killing Spencer, according to the American-Statesman. An affidavit in the case, obtained by the paper, stated that Miller said at the time:
“We’re musicians and all that kind of stuff, but I’m not a gay guy. It seemed like everything was alright and everything was fine. When I got ready to go, it seemed like [expletive] just started happening.”
What Is the ‘Gay Panic’ Defense?
Some observers called Miller’s explanation an example of the “gay panic” defense, a controversial legal tactic in which typically male suspects justify their violence by blaming the alleged sexual advances of male victims for inciting them.
The defense has been decried by the American Bar Association and is barred in two states, California and Illinois, the Washington Post reports.
Miller claimed that Spencer was the initial physical aggressor, after his unsuccessful come-on.
Prosecutors argued blood evidence undercut Miller’s account of what happened and showed the altercation was not as described, the American-Statesman reported last week. Miller was not harmed in the incident and Spencer was stabbed in the back, according to prosecutor Matthew Foye.
“It can’t possibly be immediately necessary to use deadly force if no one is attempting to use force against you,” Foye said, according to the American-Statesman.
After the guilty verdict, Foye said he was pleased the decision appeared not to cast blame on Spencer, according to KXAN:
“It establishes that Daniel Spencer was a victim of a senseless killing by the defendant and he did not do anything to bring this upon himself. Since the defense’s strategy was to argue self-defense, I think the jury’s verdict makes it clear that they did not believe it was self-defense.”
“We don’t know exactly what did happen in that house that night,” Foye said. “So that can be something that can be very difficult for juries to work through.”
Defense attorney Charlie Baird told reporters he “thought that [his client] should have been acquitted on the basis of self-defense.”
It was unclear Monday if Miller will appeal his conviction or sentencing. Prosecutors and the defense did not immediately return PEOPLE’s requests for comment.
A ‘Big Heart’ and ‘Enormous Talent’
Spencer, who moved to Austin for work, was “about the greatest kid two parents could ask for,” his father told the American-Statesman in 2015.
“Our entire family in shock and we’re devastated. … He had a big heart, and while he was enormously talented, he was completely humble,” Tom Spencer said.
“I have a huge hole in my heart. Something’s wrong in the world when you lose your child before you go,” Marsha Spencer, Daniel’s mother, reportedly testified at Miller’s trial. “I’m tortured by the thought of how Daniel died and I’m tortured by the fact that he suffered and that he was alone when he died. It’s a loss that cuts deeply.”