Victim Jimmy Lee Dean says 2nd suspect deserves longer sentence; defendant’s openly gay brother testifies that he isn’t homophobic
JOHN WRIGHT | News Editor
Before they robbed and brutally beat Jimmy Lee Dean in Oak Lawn last July, Jonathan Gunter and Bobby Singleton were drinking heavily and discharging a firearm from their vehicle as they traveled around Dallas, according to witness testimony during Gunter’s trial this week.
Gunter’s openly gay brother, Jeremy Gunter, testified that Jonathan Gunter told him he and Singleton drank about six pitchers of beer between them that night somewhere on Greenville Avenue before traveling to Oak Lawn. They also fired two rounds from a handgun that was later used to pistol-whip Dean.
Gunter’s father, Donald Gunter, testified that he found two spent bullet cartridges and several empty 16-ounce beer cans in his pickup truck when he recovered it from a Dallas police impound lot. Jonathan Gunter had borrowed the truck from his father the night of the crime.
Jonathan Gunter, 32, of Garland, was sentenced to 30 years in prison on Wednesday, March 4 for his role in Dean’s robbery, which was classified by police as an anti-gay hate crime. Gunter was on probation for three felonies at the time of the robbery.
Dean, now 43, who was hospitalized for 10 days after the attack and suffered permanent injuries, said Wednesday he was relieved Gunter had been convicted. Dean added that he hopes Singleton, who’s still awaiting trial, is sentenced to at least a 60 years in prison because he was responsible for inflicting most of the damage.
“I’ve got to live with this for the rest of my life,” Dean said. “The only thing that will really make it easier is after the other trial. One down, one to go.”
Evidence of Dean’s injuries presented during Gunter’s trial was so graphic it caused one juror to fall ill. The juror was replaced by an alternate.
Dean, who identifies as bisexual, testified that two surgeries have been unsuccessful in correcting facial deformities he sustained in the attack. He also said he’s lost his sense of smell and may never regain it, and that he suffers from depression.
“I just hope that when the jury considers the punishment, they make sure that the punishment fits the crime,” Dean testified before Gunter’s sentencing. “I know that no one’s perfect. I’ve made mistakes in my life, too. I’m sure that even some of the jury has.
“But I have never and could never see a reason to beat someone nearly to death just to have a good time,” Dean said.
According to court records, Gunter and Singleton pistol-whipped Dean with a 9mm Glock handgun, then kicked him repeatedly in the head, face and body as he lay unconscious on the pavement, on Dickason Avenue between Throckmorton and Reagan streets.
Gunter and Singleton, who were initially apprehended by security guards from nearby gay nightclubs, were charged with aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon, a first-degree felony, because they were in possession of a Zippo lighter and a set of keys belonging to Dean.
Gunter and Singleton yelled anti-gay epithets during the attack, and police said the suspects admitted targeting Dean because they thought it would be easier to rob a gay man.
However, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office chose not to prosecute the case a hate crime because it wouldn’t result in a longer prison sentence but could increase their burden of proof.
Michael Robinson, a gay man who witnessed the crime and has since launched an LGBT hate crimes advocacy group, said after the trial he was “somewhat relieved.”
“A family just lost a son for 30 years,” said Robinson, who testified during the trial. “Jimmy’s messed up for the rest of his life. It’s emotional from both sides, but justice has been served, and hopefully this will send a message to the community that these kinds of crimes will be punished to the maximum.”
Robinson, founder of United Community Against Gay Hate Crimes, noted that despite his efforts to publicize the case, only a handful of people from the LGBT community attended portions of the trial.
“I’m disappointed that the community didn’t stand up behind one of its own,” Robinson said. “For such a large gay community, it was a miniscule turnout.”
Elizabeth Pax, a local lesbian activist who attended part of the trial on Tuesday, said she was also disappointed and suggested that more people would’ve shown up if the victim were a “twink.”
“Where is the outrage?” Pax said. “It could have been any one of us.”
In an unexpected twist, Gunter’s younger brother took the witness stand before sentencing Wednesday and announced he’s gay. Jeremy Gunter, 29, testified that Jonathan Gunter isn’t homophobic.
“My brother hangs out with me and my friends,” Jeremy Gunter told the jury. “He’s been down there [to Oak Lawn] many times with us, to the same bars that Jimmy Dean would go to.”
Jonathan Gunter’s parents, Donald and Helen, also pleaded with the jury for mercy.
Gunter’s defense attorney, Charles Humphreys, suggested to the jury that his client should be sentenced to six to 10 years in prison. But Assistant District Attorney Marshall McCallum suggested a sentence of 40 years in prison.
A first-degree felony is punishable by anywhere from five to 99 years in prison, and Gunter will be eligible for parole after serving half his sentence.
Gunter’s parents said they felt the sentence was overly harsh. They said although their son wasn’t entirely innocent, Singleton deserved most of the blame.
After the sentencing, Donald and Helen Gunter handed letters of apology to Dean written by themselves, Jonathan Gunter and Jeremy Gunter.
“This whole time we’ve been as concerned for him as we have been for our son,” Helen Gunter said of Dean.
Paul Scott, executive director of Equality Texas, said late Wednesday that Dean’s case had been discussed earlier in the day during a legislative committee hearing at the State Capitol.
The hearing was on a bill seeking to launch a study of the state’s hate crimes statute to determine why it isn’t being used more often. Since the statute took effect in 2001, more than 1,800 cases have been classified by police as hate crimes, but only nine have been prosecuted as such.
“It was passed in order to serve as a deterrent,” Scott said of the hate crimes statute. “It doesn’t do anything for preventing hate crimes if it’s never used.”
McCallum, the prosecutor, declined comment after the trial.
Dallas County District Judge Ernest White, who presided over Gunter’s trial, said he expects Singleton to face trial sometime this summer in the same courtroom.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 6, 2009.