Last edited: January 01, 2005

Men Whose Sodomy Case Led to Supreme Court Ruling Keep Low Profile

Dallas Morning News, June 27, 2003
Box 655237, Dallas, TX 75265
Fax: 972-263-0456 Email:

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 1998.”

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 for him.

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 broadcast.

“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 my lawyer.”

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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