The Geronimo Bank Murders: A Gay Tragedy

35 Pages Posted: 4 Dec 2012 Last revised: 12 Jul 2021

See all articles by Joan W. Howarth

Joan W. Howarth

William S. Boyd School of Law, UNLV

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: 2008


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 Geronimo, Oklahoma bank robbery in 1984, 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 Neill's life, crimes as well as punishment, as a gay story usefully challenges and disrupts the valorizing and assimilative tendencies of the gay rights movement.

Keywords: homosexuality, LGBT, capital punishment, death penalty, Geronimo Bank Murders, gay identity, gender, gay rights, gay

Suggested Citation

Howarth, Joan W., The Geronimo Bank Murders: A Gay Tragedy (2008). Law & Sexuality, Vol. 17, 2008, MSU Legal Studies Research Paper, Available at SSRN:

Joan W. Howarth (Contact Author)

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

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