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Murder Trial Judge: “Victim” Prejudices Jurors; Glodt Amendment Fouls Presumption of Innocence?

Connor Byron Hanson is on trial for the January murder of Anthony Lee Gabriel of Sioux Falls. But don’t call Gabriel a “victim,” at least not during Hanson’s trial:

Hanson’s lawyer, Jeff Larson, plans to argue that Gabriel was the aggressor and instigator in the events and that Hanson killed Gabriel in self-defense. Larson argued in a motion this week that calling Gabriel a victim would deprive Hanson of his presumption of innocence and right to a fair trial and would violate his constitutional rights.

Judge Robin Houwman agreed Thursday, telling prosecutors to avoid the term “victim” and instruct witnesses to refer to Gabriel by his name or as “the deceased.”

“I believe repeated use of the term (victim) can be prejudicial,” Houwman said [Mark Walker, “Lawyer: Teen Shot Gun in Self-Defense,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.12.17].

Judge Houwman appears to be affirming a point I raised this summer in opposition to Jason Glodt’s proposed crime victims’ bill of rights:

The Glodt amendment offers certain rights applicable to victims after the perpetrator has been sentenced, and those are mostly fine. But the above rights and some others in the Glodt amendment share a fatal legal flaw. Supporters of the Glodt amendment will say that this proposal is about giving victims rights and respect similar to what the legal system gives to criminals. But in many cases, we’re not talking about rights for criminals; we’re talking about rights for defendants. And as long as we’re talking about defendants, the rights above aren’t being granted to victims; they are being granted to alleged victims, to accusers like Chad Haberto people who in the eyes of the law are not proven victims.

This overarching argument is exactly the sort of unpleasant legalism that Glodt and his campaigners will use to cudgel their opponents—How dare you suggest these poor families aren’t victims?! But it’s true: defendants get special status because the state is coming down on them. Defendants are innocent until proven guilty; they thus enjoy unique protections against the possible errors and abuses of the state. Just as the state may not oppress defendants until due process leads to a guilty verdict, the state should not be able to favor certain citizens until due process has shown they have been harmed. Alleged victims enjoy protection from harassment and invasions of privacy under existing statutes that apply to all citizens equally [C.A. Heidelberger, “Glodt Amendment for “Victims” Rights Redundant, Unenforceable, Unwise,” Dakota Free Press, 2015.08.11].

It sounds harsh, but Judge Houwman agrees: the deceased isn’t a crime victim until we’ve proven a crime happened. Judge Houwman’s ruling in the Hanson murder trial supports the argument that Jason Glodt can’t give crime victims rights before we’ve convicted defendants of their crimes.


  1. crossgrain 2015-12-17 14:53

    Okay, somebody explain this to me because I must be stupid. How in the heck is Gabriel NOT a victim? Guy got shot in the head in his car with his girlfriend sitting next to him. He may not be HANSON’s victim, but he’s definitely SOMEBODY’s victim.

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-12-17 16:03

    Crossgrain, it is an interesting question about language, knowledge, and the burden of proof. It appears that if the defense is going to argue self-defense, then they are making the point that we have not established that Gabriel was an innocent victim (and those words ring together: the second implies the first). The defense is preparing to tell us that Gabriel was an aggressor who wanted to make Hanson his victim. The defense appears to be acknowledging that Hanson killed Gabriel, but they’re going to argue that Gabriel asked for it. That’s very different from a situation where we find some poor girl dead in the woods, arrest some dude for the murder, and the defense says, “Sure, she was a victim, but my client didn’t kill her! She’s someone else’s victim!”

    Do we refer to people shot by others defending themselves as “victims”?

    I wonder, has any judge ever taken this position on the use of the word “victim” prior to this case?

  3. crossgrain 2015-12-17 16:18

    Cory, yeah, I get that the defense is claiming the “deceased” was the aggressor, so my confusion must simply come from the fact that I don’t define a “victim” as necessarily innocent. I’ve always thought being a victim just meant that you had come to some harm.

    Merriam-Webster gives me the following:
    Victim (noun)
    2: one that is acted on and usually adversely affected by a force or agent : as
    a (1) : one that is injured, destroyed, or sacrificed under any of various conditions (2) : one that is subjected to oppression, hardship, or mistreatment

    If nothing else, and if in fact he was the aggressor, wasn’t Gabriel a ‘victim of his own stupidity’?

  4. mike from iowa 2015-12-17 16:40

    Trayvon Martin was a victim that the press and NRA made out to be the bad guy. Zimmerman was told by the police to leave the guy alone and disobeyed them. He was the aggressor and killed a teenager because he was armed and Florida law said he could kill with impunity. Interesting how you can off the only witness against you and your home free.

  5. jake 2015-12-17 16:42

    ahhhh, the beauty and use (or mis-use) of words! Interesting topic. Prosecutors will use them to paint guilt and overdue it at times as will defenders at their time to address. I have to agree with the judge.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-12-17 16:50

    Oh! Joe connects everything! Pow!

    That needs to be the new Dakota Free Press drinking game: any time a commenter makes a relevant connection to a seemingly unrelated topic of great interest to DFP readers, we all take a drink (or shoot some bullets, since bullets and booze are the same thing at Kessler’s, your friendly neighborhood Bullets and Booze Emporium!). :-)

    Seriously, Joe, that’s a good connection.

    As Jake suggests, there’s more to a word than what Crossgrain finds written in the dictionary. The judge places two words side by side and rules that one carries a prejudicial weight that the other does not. The judge thus says, “Use ‘deceased’, not ‘victim’.” That’s an interesting choice—again, can anyone identify any precedent for that choice? Has it happened in other murder/self-defense cases?

  7. leslie 2015-12-17 17:03

    thankyou mfi-right on as always

  8. Roger Cornelius 2015-12-17 18:29

    If Larson doesn’t want Gabriel to be called a victim, how about calling him the murdered guy or better yet, call him the guy murdered by Hanson.

  9. barry freed 2015-12-18 09:00

    Zimmerman was retreating as Police told him to do, then Martin followed him.

    In Florida, where the shooting you bring up happened, the murder rate before passing a CC law was 36% above the national average. After, it is 4% below.

    On Point of the article: In personal injury lawsuits, the word “insurance” is not allowed to be spoken in the courtroom when the defendant is an insurance company.

  10. mike from iowa 2015-12-18 09:28

    Barry-Zimmerman was told not to follow Martin,when he first called this in. The police told him to meet them at the gated entrance and let them in. He did not do that. He,instead,went after Martin. He told authorities that Martin matched the descriptions of other thugs in that area and he said Martin was not going to get away. He was 100% correct that Martin would not get away. Sounds like premeditation to me. Zimmerman had zero authority to confront anyone and Martin was clearly,imho,within his rights to defend himself from a potential stalker.

    CC is clearly irrelevant here as was stand your ground.

  11. barry freed 2015-12-18 10:05

    Please provide proof of those claims.

    Just another anti-gun misrepresentation fostered by the Media, like the San Bernardino shooting, to further an agenda. In reality, it was two angry people interacting with each other and somebody got killed.

    Karma, dude.

  12. leslie 2015-12-18 10:48

    hi barry. perfect example of what barry carry would say. all concealed carriers are vilified by misrepresentation. you don’t like being lumped in with the criminals. zimmerman created the scenario following someone he racially profiled, was told by authority to stand down, he is untrained, and killed a 16 year old he kept following. the media is doing its job but when you get maligned by association you and the rest of fox news and rush limbaugh make them the predator.

    dude nothing. karma nothing. i’m pretty sure you have said here in the past that if your gonna mess with cops you better expect getting shot. cops abuse of force is beyond out of control.

  13. bearcreekbat 2015-12-18 11:53

    barry, when the defendant is an insurance company the term “insurance” can be used at will in a civil trial. But when the defendant is an individual or company who is insured, use of the term “insurance” in a civil trial is prohibited.

    Cory, as I have posted in other threads – you are absolutely correct: words matter. Using inflammatory language can not only get innocent people convicted of a crime they did not commit, it can result in attacks on Planned Parenthood, Muslims, blacks in church, immigrants, and other improperly demonized innocent people.

  14. mike from iowa 2015-12-18 16:50

    OT- Texas teen who killed four and was given “affluenza” defense and no jail time has apparently absconded with his mother and is missing. Might be out of the country. Only in Texas.

  15. Les 2015-12-19 13:54

    Very good words, bear. I’ve watched it used across the table as in another post here on school boards using consultants instead of hiring their own staff.

    These board members have seen how easily a strong member can be taken out with words the other board members have a choice to use those words or be taken out by them. These supes and there hit men know and understand this process and all use it well so only the jellyfish remain onboard.

    To Barry’s topic, we lose 125 people of all classes daily in the US to heroin overdose. Isn’t it about time we demanded better control of who gets heroin and maybe even make it illegal? Imagine losing 125 good folks daily in one location where it no longer becomes just a meaningless statistic.

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