The Geronimo Bank Murders: A Gay Tragedy

53 Pages Posted: 4 Dec 2007 Last revised: 4 Dec 2012

See all articles by Joan W. Howarth

Joan W. Howarth

William S. Boyd School of Law, UNLV; Michigan State University College of Law

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Date Written: December 4, 2007


The Geronimo Bank Murders examines the intersection of homosexuality and capital punishment through the lenses of cultural criticism, Queer Theory, and legal analysis. The paper's subject is Jay Neill, who was executed in 2002 for murdering four people in a gruesome bank robbery in 1984, in Geronimo, Oklahoma, and for being gay. Current capital punishment doctrine permits and perhaps even encourages such results. The Geronimo Bank Murders recasts Neill's story, privileging homosexuality and gender, and uses that account to make three points, each based in law, culture, and politics. First, as a matter of legal doctrine, recognizing the error in using homosexuality to obtain a death sentence requires a normative judgment about gay identity, one that courts are increasingly prepared to make. Second, the gay-centric reading of Neill's trial reveals the shallow literalism of harmless error review of capital sentencing errors, the chief mechanism through which flawed verdicts such as Neill's are executed. Finally, the interpretation of Neil's story as a gay life, crimes as well as punishment, usefully challenges and disrupts the valorizing and assimilative tendencies of the gay rights movement.

Keywords: death penalty, sexuality, queer theory, capital punishment, gay history

JEL Classification: J71, K14

Suggested Citation

Howarth, Joan W., The Geronimo Bank Murders: A Gay Tragedy (December 4, 2007). Law & Sexuality, Vol. 17, 2008, UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-09, Available at SSRN:

Joan W. Howarth (Contact Author)

William S. Boyd School of Law, UNLV ( email )

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Michigan State University College of Law ( email )

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