FATHER Paul Kelly has renewed hope that Queensland’s so-called “gay panic” murder defence could soon be removed from law.
The defence means a murder charge may be reduced to manslaughter if the defendant establishes their victim “came on” to them and the killing was in self defence.
Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath in April announced parliamentarians would be reviewing the law with view to a repeal by the end of the year.
Fr Kelly (pictured) is behind an online petition with 247,076 signatures of support for the legal change, making it one of the biggest online petitions in Australia and highlighting the public mood for change.
He has labelled the law which exists in Queensland and South Australia as an “international disgrace” for allowing lawyers to use an archaic provocation defence to get their clients’ murder sentences downgraded to manslaughter when the victim was gay, or could be portrayed that way.
Fr Kelly, who is a police chaplain based on the Gold Coast, has good reason to campaign for its removal.
Eight years ago, while he was parish priest at St Mary’s Church, Maryborough, he was one of the first on the scene when a man died after a bashing by two men in the church grounds.
Jason Andrew Pearce was charged with the murder of the man, but was convicted of manslaughter after using the “gay panic” defence.
The court did not accept the accused men’s defence that the murdered man had followed them and tried to grab Pearce’s crotch before the victim was beaten to death.
However, under Queensland law, unwanted homosexual or heterosexual advances can be used as a partial provocation defence to violent crimes.
Pearce was sentenced in 2010 to nine years’ imprisonment, while his co-accused Richard John Meerdink received 10 years. In 2012, Pearce was granted parole and released from jail. Meerdink is eligible for parole this year.
“It was very distressing and confusing in the church grounds that night,” Fr Kelly said.
“I never understood how a victim could be bashed and left for dead. There can be no excuse for such violence.
“The story of the Good Samaritan reminds us that we owe care to those in need, and more so if our actions are the cause.
“Pope Francis has been a wonderful inspiration in explaining compassion and mercy.”
Fr Kelly is hopeful that the “gay panic” murder defence will be scrapped in both Queensland and South Australia. New South Wales was the last state to repeal the legal loophole, in 2014.