In 1985, Robert Van Hook fatally strangled and stabbed David Self after picking him up at a bar in Cincinnati. He then fled to Florida, where police apprehended him and he confessed. A jury sentenced him to death — but now he is using the ‘gay panic’ defense to try and get off death row.
Van Hook’s execution is set for 18 July.
His defense team filed a petition for leniency with the Ohio Parole Board. In it, they explain Van Hook went untreated for mental, physical, and sexual abuse as a child. He suffered from depression and was ‘troubled by increasing questions about his own sexual identity’.
Van Hook is using this defense because he says he experienced panic of ‘self-revulsion’ before killing Self.
A controversial defense
Prosecutors are dismissing Van Hook’s claim.
‘This is a man who had cynically manipulated homosexuals for years,’ the Hamilton County prosecutor’s office said. ‘He posed as a gay; he frequented bars that were gay and he preyed on vulnerable victims who were gay.’
They also said Van Hook is a violent person. He stabbed a fellow inmate on death row in November.
The so-called ‘gay panic’ defense is highly controversial in legal communities. Two states, California and Illinois, ban it as a legal defense to use in court. Rhode Island’s legislature is currently voting on it.
The American Bar Association is recommending other states follow suit.
The parole board began hearing arguments for both sides on Thursday (24 May). Republican Governor John Kasich has the final say about Van Hook’s fate.