Whose Sodomy Case Led to Supreme Court Ruling Keep Low Profile
Morning News, June 27, 2003
Box 655237, Dallas, TX 75265
Fax: 972-263-0456 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
By Bruce Nichols, The Dallas Morning News
HOUSTON (KRT)—The two men whose
appeal led the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Texas’ sodomy law have been
invisible warriors, making brief appearances at the courthouse but otherwise
working with their lawyers to keep their lives secret.
Until Thursday’s ruling, the public view of Tyron
Garner, 35, who was unemployed when arrested in 1998, and John Geddes
Lawrence, 59, a longtime medical technologist, consisted of a brief TV news
clip in which they decried their arrest.
Garner and Lawrence, smiling but looking a bit
overwhelmed, sat silently and barely acknowledged each other while gay
advocates spoke at a news conference Thursday in Houston.
Lawrence read a statement in a low voice, but the men did
not take questions. “I am not a public speaker,” he said.
“We never chose to be public figures or to take on this
fight. But we also never thought we could be arrested this way,” Lawrence
said. “We’re glad not only that this ruling lets us get on with our lives
but that it opens the door for gay people all across the country to be truly
equal. We’re grateful to everyone who has respected our privacy over the
last few years, even if the state of Texas did not respect it that night in
Ruth Harlow, lead lawyer for Lambda Legal Defense and
Education Fund, the New York-based gay rights organization that supported the
case, said Garner and Lawrence “are reluctant standard-bearers for the
principles that are at stake here, but they believe in them very strongly.”
The secrecy served the interests of the movement, said
Ray Hill, a pioneering gay rights advocate in Houston, who knows both men.
“They are not the kind of people that the lawyers want
to comment on this case,” Hill said. “They were never a couple. . . . They
are not articulate.”
It was neither man’s first brush with the law when a
Harris County sheriff’s deputy, responding to a romantic rival’s false
report of a man with a gun, entered the apartment at the Colorado Club on
Sept. 17, 1998, and found the men engaged in sex.
For Garner, Harris County court records list arrests for
assault, drunken driving and possession of a small amount of marijuana.
Department of Public Safety records show only two convictions for assault, in
1995 and 2000.
Lawrence has two convictions for drunken driving and one
for murder-by-automobile in 1967.
In 2000, the former roommate of Garner who called
deputies to the apartment—and was later convicted of filing a false police
report—went to court to obtain a protective order against Garner, accusing
him of several beatings and a sexual assault.
Garner “punched me on my left eye two times” in
January 2000, said Robert Royce Eubanks in an affidavit. Garner also beat
Eubanks with a hose in 1999 while “using crack and drinking” and beat him
with a belt in 1998, the affidavit said.
In May 1998, Garner “stabbed me on my right ring finger
with a box cutter” and “grabbed a hot iron and burned me” and “then
sexually assaulted me,” Eubanks charged.
A temporary protective order was granted, but the case
apparently was dropped after Eubanks’ lawyer withdrew, saying she could not
locate him for a scheduled trial.
Before the news conference Thursday, Garner could not be
found for comment, and checks of addresses and phone numbers listed in various
court documents turned up neither Garner nor family members who could speak
Lawrence still lives in the apartment where the two men
were arrested five years ago. He continues working at Bayshore Medical Center
in Pasadena, Texas, where a co-worker said he sometimes serves as shift
supervisor in the hospital’s lab.
The co-worker, who asked not to be identified, described
him as “a nice guy” but quiet. She said she didn’t know about the case
until recently, when she saw the old video clip replayed on a TV news
“Most of the time, he’s just serious, just doing his
work,” she said. “If you go up and talk to him, he’ll hold a
conversation, but he’s not going to start a conversation with you.”
A neighbor at the apartment complex for the last three
years said that Lawrence kept to himself and was a cordial if distant
neighbor. Bill Chalfant, who lives in the unit below Lawrence, said he
didn’t know about the case and “never thought twice about him.”
“He’s a good guy,” Chalfant said. “I’ve never
had any problems with him.”
Lawrence has had a few problems with the law—about once
every decade over the last 35 years, records indicate.
In 1967, Department of Public Safety records indicate he
was found guilty of murder-by-automobile in Galveston County and given five
years’ probation. Twice since then, in 1978 and 1988, he served probation
for driving while intoxicated.
Lawrence also is in the midst of a bankruptcy proceeding,
the apparent result of consumer debt, mostly credit card overruns, according
to the office of the trustee handling the case. Colorado Club is a creditor,
but he’s protected from eviction while in bankruptcy.
Telephoned for comment, he was polite but said, “Call
People involved in the early stages of the case recall
the two men as shy, but the media circus that immediately surrounded the case
might have made almost anyone hesitant, said Justice of the Peace Mike
Parrott, who presided at the first hearing.
“I don’t know if they ever made a sound,” Judge
Parrott said. The men, appearing in coats and ties, “were flanked by
attorneys. . . . They were just normal guys standing there . . . (and) did
what they were told.”
It has been reported that deputies broke down the
apartment door, but the judge disputed that. “There were no doors kicked
in,” he said.
Either the door was unlocked or apartment personnel let
in the deputies, but they “were going in with the anticipation of somebody
having a gun,” the judge said. “I kind of felt sorry for the deputies. . .
. They wrote it up as they saw it.”
Attorney David Jones, who attended that first hearing,
said he never understood the need for secrecy. “Can’t imperfect people win
in court?” Jones said.
But Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for Lambda Legal, said the
right to privacy was the key principle in the case, and “we have made a
commitment to help carve out and enforce a zone of privacy for these men.”
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