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Daniel James WHITE

 

 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: "The Twinkie Defense"
Number of victims: 2
Date of murder: November 27, 1978
Date of arrest: Same day (surrenders)
Date of birth: September 2, 1946
Victims profile: San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and openly gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: San Francisco, California, USA
Status: Found guilty of voluntary manslaughter on May 21, 1979. Sentenced to seven years and eight monts imprisonment. Paroled on January 6, 1984. Committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his garage by running a garden hose from the exhaust pipe to the inside of his car on October 21, 1985
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Daniel James White (September 2, 1946 – October 21, 1985) was the former San Francisco Supervisor (in San Francisco, a combination of city councillor and county supervisor) who assassinated Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone on November 27, 1978 at City Hall.

Milk was the first publicly homosexual man or woman to be elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and was the third known openly gay elected official (the first man) anywhere in the United States.

The assassinations

White and Milk were both freshman members of the Board of Supervisors under the new district election system, and they both represented areas of San Francisco whose populations had been historically ignored by the local government.

Milk's district included the predominantly gay and lesbian Castro District, while White represented a district near the City's southern boundary that was predominantly lower-income working-class people.

White had previously been a member of the San Francisco Police Department and the San Francisco Fire Department. Milk owned and operated a camera store on Castro Street, which he sold upon election to the Board of Supervisors.

Prior to 2003, members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors were only paid part-time salaries. In 1977, the annual salary for a Supervisor was less than $12,000.

Frustrated with the nature of San Francisco politics, and finding it impossible to support his family on the meager salary, Dan White resigned his seat on the Board of Supervisors in November 1978, about a week before Thanksgiving.

A few days later, after several of his friends and constituents assured him that his efforts had not been in vain and that his voice was still needed on the Board of Supervisors, White approached Mayor George Moscone and asked to be re-appointed to his seat on the Board. (In San Francisco, vacancies on the Board of Supervisors are temporarily filled by the Mayor until the expiration of the seat's original term.)

On Monday, November 27, 1978, White loaded his gun and went to City Hall. He entered through a basement window that had been widely known to be left open.

He proceeded to the Mayor's office, where Moscone was conferring with Willie Brown, then Speaker of the California Assembly. Brown left through a back exit and Moscone saw White.

White asked Moscone if he would be re-appointed to his seat on the Board of Supervisors. When Moscone said no, White took out his gun and shot the Mayor five times at point blank range. At least one of the shots was administered execution-style.

White then re-loaded his gun and went down the corridor to Harvey Milk's office. As Milk arose from his seat to greet White, he, too, was shot multiple times at point blank range. White then fled City Hall and later turned himself in at the police station where he was formerly an officer. There are reports that his old colleagues cheered and applauded him when he arrived to surrender.

The news of Milk's assassination prompted an impromptu, peaceful vigil and procession down Market Street, from The Castro to City Hall.

The Twinkie defense

White's trial in 1979 was famous for inventing the so-called "Twinkie defense." In a highly emotional confession that had been videotaped and used by the prosecution, White was barely coherent as he explained his reasons for assassinating Moscone and Milk.

White's defense relied significantly on problems in his home life, especially that he was under a great deal of stress and had been eating an inordinate amount of junk food.

The public's perception that White's defense counsel was arguing that White was somehow not responsible for his actions by reason of ingestion of too much sugar, produced the infamous term The Twinkie Defense.

In any event, it may not have been any such mitigating factors, so much as the pathetic image White presented on the videotaped confession — possibly combined with feelings of homophobia toward Milk, which led the jury to find him guilty of voluntary manslaughter instead of first degree murder, notwithstanding the signs of his pre-meditation (e.g. going to City Hall with the gun already loaded, deliberately avoiding the metal detector and then stopping to re-load after killing Moscone).

The San Francisco gay community felt particularly aggrieved by the verdict, denouncing it as being incongruent with the facts of the murders. Initially stunned, another vigil and march dissolved into violence — especially violence against police vehicles in the Civic Center area (because White had previously been a member of the SFPD).

The SFPD, in turn, responded with what some called a "full-force invasion" of The Castro District later that evening. Officers entered nightclubs with truncheons bared, assaulting patrons left and right, most of whom had not taken part in any of the earlier violence. This episode of San Francisco history is known as the White Night Riots.

Imprisonment and death

White served five years at Soledad State Prison, and was paroled on January 6, 1984. Fearing he might be murdered in retaliation for his crimes, California State Corrections Officials secretly transported White to Los Angeles, where he was to serve a year's parole.

After satisfying the terms of his parole, White indicated he wanted to return to San Francisco, which prompted Mayor Dianne Feinstein to issue a public statement formally asking White not to return. Nevertheless, he did return.

White found it impossible to return to any semblance of a happy life, however. A further child had been born while he was in prison, subsequent to conjugal visits. This child was born with disabilities, and it is thought that White may have believed the affliction was a divine punishment for killing Moscone and Milk.

In any case, his marriage was not salvageable, almost no one in San Francisco was particularly happy to see him back, and he became increasingly depressed.

On October 21, 1985, less than two years after his release from prison, White committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his wife's garage by running a garden hose from the exhaust pipe to the inside of his car. The body was discovered by White's brother, Tom, shortly before 2 p.m. the same day.

Cultural references

  • The Dead Kennedys sang about White and the assassinations to Sonny Curtis' "I Fought the Law" on their album Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death. A photo from the White Night Riot also appears as the album cover of the Dead Kennedys' first LP Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.

  • Dan White was portrayed by actor Tim Daly in the 1999 Showtime film Execution of Justice which chronicled the events leading to the assassination of George Moscone and Harvey Milk.

 
 

Daniel James "Dan" White (September 2, 1946 – October 21, 1985) was a San Francisco supervisor who assassinated San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, on Monday, November 27, 1978, at City Hall.

In a controversial verdict that led to the coining of the legal slang "Twinkie defense," White was convicted of manslaughter rather than murder in the deaths of Milk and Moscone. Less than two years after serving a sentence of five years, White returned to San Francisco and committed suicide. San Francisco Weekly has referred to White as "perhaps the most hated man in San Francisco's history".

Early life

Daniel James White was born in Los Angeles County, the second of nine children. He was raised by working-class parents in a Roman Catholic household in the Visitacion Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. He attended Riordan High School and was expelled for violence during his junior year. He went on to attend Woodrow Wilson High School where he was valedictorian of his class. He enlisted in the Army in 1965 and served in the Vietnam War before being honorably discharged in 1972. He worked as a security professional at A.J. Dimond High School in Anchorage, Alaska during early 1972. He returned to San Francisco to work as a police officer. He quit the force after reporting another officer for beating a handcuffed suspect.

White then joined the San Francisco Fire Department. While on duty, White's rescue of a woman and her baby from a seventh-floor apartment in the Geneva Towers was covered by The San Francisco Chronicle. The city's newspapers referred to him as "an all-American boy".

Election as supervisor

In 1977, White was elected as a Democrat to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors from District 8, which included several neighborhoods near the southeastern limits of San Francisco. At this time, supervisors were elected by district and not "at-large," as they had been before and then again in the 1980s and 1990s. He had strong support from the police and firefighter's unions. His district was described by The New York Times as "a largely white, middle-class section that is hostile to the growing homosexual community of San Francisco." As a supervisor, White openly saw himself as the board's "defender of the home, the family and religious life against homosexuals, pot smokers and cynics."

Tenure as a supervisor

Despite their personal differences, White and Supervisor Harvey Milk initially had several areas of political agreement and they reportedly worked well together. Milk was one of three supervisors invited to the baptism of White's newborn child shortly after the election. White also persuaded Dianne Feinstein to appoint Milk chairman of the Streets and Transportation Committee.

The Catholic Church proposed a facility for juvenile offenders who had committed murder, arson, rape, and other crimes in White's district in April 1978. White was strongly opposed, while Milk supported the facility, and this difference led to a conflict between the two. White held a mixed record on gay rights issues, both opposing the Briggs Initiative and voting against an ordinance prohibiting anti-gay housing and employment discrimination.

Assassinations

After his disagreement with Milk over the proposed rehab center, White frequently clashed with Milk as well as other members of the board. On November 10, 1978, White resigned his seat as supervisor. The reasons he cited were his dissatisfaction with what he saw as the corrupt inner-workings of San Francisco city politics, as well as the difficulty in making a living without a police officer's or firefighter's salary, jobs he could not hold legally while serving as supervisor. White had opened a baked-potato stand at Pier 39, which failed to become profitable. He reversed his resignation on November 14, 1978 after his supporters lobbied him to seek appointment from George Moscone.

Moscone initially agreed to White's request, but later refused the appointment at the urging of Milk and others. On November 27, 1978, White visited San Francisco City Hall to meet with the mayor and make a final plea to get his job back. He arrived that day by climbing through a first-floor window on the side of City Hall carrying a loaded gun and 10 rounds of ammunition. By entering the building through the window, White was able to circumvent the recently installed metal detectors. After entering Moscone's office, White pleaded to be re-instated as supervisor, but Moscone said no. White then killed Moscone by shooting him in the shoulder, chest, and twice in the head. He reloaded his weapon and walked to the other side of City Hall to Milk's office, fatally shooting him five times, the final two shots fired with the gun's barrel touching Milk's skull, according to the coroner. White then fled City Hall, turning himself in at the San Francisco's Northern Police Station where he had been a police officer. While being interviewed by investigators, White recorded a tearful confession, stating, "I just shot him."

Trial

At the trial, White's defense team argued that his mental state at the time of the killings was one of diminished capacity due to depression. They argued, therefore, he was not capable of premeditating the killings, and thus was not legally guilty of first-degree murder. Forensic psychiatrist Martin Blinder testified that White was suffering from depression and pointed to several behavioral symptoms of that depression, including the fact that White had gone from being highly health-conscious to consuming sugary foods and drinks. When the prosecution played a recording of White's confession, several jurors wept as they listened to what was described as "a man pushed beyond his endurance."

Many people familiar with City Hall claimed that it was common to enter through the window to save time. A police officer friend of White claimed to reporters that several officials carried weapons at this time and speculated that White carried the extra ammunition as a habit that police officers had. The jury found White guilty of voluntary manslaughter rather than first-degree murder. Outrage within San Francisco's gay community over the resulting seven-year sentence sparked the city's White Night Riots; general disdain for the outcome of the court case led to the elimination of California's "diminished capacity" law.

Imprisonment and suicide

White served five years of his seven-year sentence at Soledad State Prison and was paroled on January 6, 1984. Fearing White might be murdered in retaliation for his crimes, California State Corrections Officials secretly transported him to Los Angeles, where he served a year's parole. At the expiration of that year, White sought to return to San Francisco; Mayor Dianne Feinstein issued a public announcement of his plans, and a statement formally asking White not to return. White did move back to San Francisco and attempted to rebuild his life with his wife and children. His marriage soon ended.

On October 21, 1985, less than two years after his release from prison, White committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his garage by running a garden hose from the exhaust pipe to the inside of his car. White's body was discovered by his brother, Thomas, shortly before 2 p.m. the same day.

White was buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California, with a traditional government-furnished headstone issued for war veterans. He was survived by his two sons (seven and four years old), and an infant daughter.

Confessions

In 1998, Frank Falzon, the homicide inspector with the San Francisco police to whom White had turned himself in after the killings, said that he met White in 1984, and that at this meeting White had confessed that he had the intention to kill not only Moscone and Milk, but another supervisor, Carol Ruth Silver, and then-member of the California State Assembly (and future San Francisco Mayor) Willie Brown. Falzon quoted White as having said, "I was on a mission. I wanted four of them. Carol Ruth Silver, she was the biggest snake ... and Willie Brown, he was masterminding the whole thing." In 1975, Brown had authored the bill that legalized homosexuality in California. Falzon indicated that he believed White, stating, "I felt like I had been hit by a sledge-hammer ... I found out it was a premeditated murder".

Portrayals in media

  • The story of the assassinations is told in the Academy Award-winning documentary film The Times of Harvey Milk (1984), which came out a year before White committed suicide.

  • White's life, the assassinations, and his trial are covered in the 1984 book Double Play: The San Francisco City Hall Killings by Mike Weiss, which won the Edgar Award as Best True Crime Book of the Year. An expanded second edition, Double Play: The Double Assassination of George Moscone and Harvey Milk, was issued in 2010 and updated White's story to include his life after prison and his suicide. The second edition also includes a DVD with a half-hour video interview of White.

  • Execution of Justice, a play by Emily Mann, chronicles the events leading to the assassinations. In 1999, the play was adapted to film for cable network Showtime, with Tim Daly portraying White.

  • The song "Special Treatment for the Family Man" by San Francisco band Tuxedomoon is a comment on the trial and verdict.

  • The assassinations were the basis for a scene in the 1987 science fiction movie RoboCop in which a deranged former municipal official holds the Mayor and others hostage and demands his job back.

  • Actor Josh Brolin was nominated for an Academy Award for playing Dan White in Gus Van Sant's 2008 biopic Milk, which opened with wide release from Focus Features. The film suggests that Milk believed White may have been a closeted gay man. However, there is no evidence to suggest that Dan White was homosexual.

  • Court psychiatrist Martin Blinder, M.D. devoted a chapter of his 1985 book Lovers, Killers, Husbands and Wives to the Dan White case, including interviews. The book was written prior to White's release and suicide.

Wikipedia.org

 
 

Dan White, The City Hall Killer

Find out what happened when politics went bad in 1978 for San Francisco's Mayor Moscone after he replaced a staunchly anti-gay supervisor, Dan White, with an openly gay supervisor, Harvey Milk.

When Dan White shot dead America’s first openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk, and the San Francisco Mayor George Moscone in November 1978, the case caused a sensation that would go down in history as the “Twinkie Defense” and make Milk into a gay icon.

Biography

Daniel James White was born on 2nd September 1946 in San Francisco. He was the second of nine children and often described as an “an all-American boy”. At high school he excelled in sports and went on to serve in the Vietnam War as a paratrooper. He returned home to work first as a policeman and then as a fireman in San Francisco and, in 1977 he was elected onto the Board of Supervisors.

White was a conservative who was troubled by growing official tolerance of overt homosexuality and crime. He represented a district of predominantly poor white working class people and became part of a loosely formed coalition to oppose Mayor George Moscone and his liberal ideas, having frequent disagreements on policy with fellow Supervisor Harvey Milk.

In the 1970s many psychiatrists still considered homosexuality to be a mental illness and there was no real national gay organisation. Moscone was an early supporter of gay rights and had managed to abolish a law against sodomy. He was also the first mayor to appoint large numbers of minority groups, including gays and lesbians, to influential positions within San Francisco.

Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to an official position of any significance in America. He had previously served in the Korean War and when he returned to Manhattan he become a Wall Street investment banker. He soon tired of it though and befriended gay radicals who frequented Greenwich Village.

In 1972, Milk moved to The Castro, the heart of San Franciso’s gay community, where he ran for election as a city supervisor three times before he succeeded. His relentless pursuit for attention led Milk to be dismissed as a publicity whore by many, but he knew that the root cause of the gay predicament was invisibility and the gay community nicknamed him ‘The Mayor of Castro Street’.

On joining the Board, Dan White was forced to resign his job as a fireman due to a provision in the city charter that barred anybody from holding two city jobs. He started a restaurant business, but it failed due to the pressures of being a councillor. Finding it impossible to support his family on the meager Supervisor’s salary of $9,600 a year and the increasing back seat he felt he was being forced into by Moscone, Milk and other progressive Board members, he abruptly resigned his seat after Milk's gay rights bill got passed. White had opposed it.

His colleagues and constituents influenced his decision to protest at the position he found himself and retract his resignation. White approached Moscone and asked to be re-appointed to the Board and, although Moscone considered White’s plea, he had already been strongly influenced by Milk and other Board members to appoint another liberal, Federal Housing official Don Horanzy, instead.

The Crimes

On 27th November 1978, Dan White went to City Hall with a loaded .38 revolver. In order to avoid the metal detectors he entered through a basement window that had been negligently left open for ventilation.

He proceeded to the Mayor's office where the two men began arguing until Moscone suggested going to a more private room so that they couldn’t be heard. Once there, Moscone refused to re-appoint him and White shot the Mayor twice in the chest and twice in the head.

He then went down the corridor and shot Milk, twice in the chest, once in the back and twice again in the head. Soon after he turned himself in at the police station where he used to work and there are reports that his old colleagues cheered and applauded him when he arrived.

The Trial

At his trial in 1979 it was revealed that White also planned to assassinate Assembly Speaker Willie Brown and fellow supervisor and attorney Carol Ruth Silver, but couldn’t find them.

During a videotaped confession he came across as a pathetic man who was barely able to explain why he had assassinated his colleagues. His defence lawyer Douglas R. Schmidt claimed he had acted in the heat of passion and not out of malice. He made a plea of “diminished capacity”, due to extreme stress in White’s home life and depression. Whilst describing White’s emotional state, psychiatrist Martin Blinder, one of five defence therapists, explained that in the days leading up to the shootings White grew slovenly and abandoned his usual healthy diet and indulged in a diet of sugary junk food like Coke, doughnuts and Twinkies instead.

Newspapers across the country picked up on a great headline and today the term “Twinkie defense” is a derogatory label implying that a criminal defence is artificial or absurd.

The jury found White guilty of voluntary manslaughter instead of first-degree murder, despite his obvious pre-meditation. White was sentenced to a maximum of seven years and eight months in prison and never expressed public remorse for the murders.

The Aftermath

Peaceful demonstrations by Castro’s gay community outside City Hall turned violent. 5,000 policemen responded by entering nightclubs armed with truncheons and assaulting patrons. 124 people were injured, including 59 policemen. The episode is known in history as “The White Night Riots”.

White served five years at Soledad State Prison and was released on parole on 6th January 1984. He lived undercover away from his family in Los Angeles for a year and then asked to return to San Francisco. New Mayor Dianne Feinstein issued a public statement asking him not to.

 
 

Daniel James White

Born: 2-Sep-1946
Birthplace: Long Beach, CA
Died: 21-Oct-1985
Location of death: San Francisco, CA
Cause of death: Suicide
Remains: Buried, Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, CA

Gender: Male
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Criminal, Government

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Assassinated George Moscone and Harvey Milk

Military service: US Army

Dan White shot and killed Harvey Milk and George Moscone at San Francisco City Hall on 27 November 1978. Less well known is the fact that Willie Brown was also on White's hit list that night, and narrowly escaped certain death by just a matter of minutes.

 
 

The Moscone-Milk assassinations were the killings of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and openly gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, who were shot and killed in San Francisco City Hall by former Supervisor Dan White on 27 November 1978.

White was angry that Moscone refused to re-appoint him to his just-resigned Board of Supervisor's seat, and that Milk heavily lobbied against the re-appointment. Milk was (according to Time magazine) "the first openly gay man elected to any substantial political office in the history of the planet," leading to speculation from within the LGBT community as well as media and political circles that his assassination was a hate crime. These events also accelerated the political career of Dianne Feinstein, one of White's allies on the Board, who became mayor of San Francisco and eventually U.S. Senator for California.

White was subsequently convicted of voluntary manslaughter, rather than of first degree murder. The verdict sparked the "White Night Riots" in San Francisco, and led to the state of California abolishing the diminished capacity criminal defense, which had been described by the media during White's trial as the "Twinkie defense".

Preceding events

White had been a San Francisco police officer, and later a firefighter. He and Milk were each elected to the Board of Supervisors in the 1977 elections, which introduced district-based seats and ushered in the "most diverse Board the city has even seen". The city charter prevented anyone from holding two city jobs simultaneously, so White resigned from his higher-paying job with the fire department.

With regard to business development issues, the 11-member board was roughly split 6-5 in favor of pro-growth advocates including White, over those who advocated the more neighborhood-oriented approach favored by Mayor Moscone. Debate among the Board members was sometimes acrimonious and saw the conservative White verbally sparring with liberal supervisors Milk and Carol Ruth Silver amongst others. Much of Moscone's agenda of neighborhood revitalization and increased city support programs was thwarted or modified in favor of the business-oriented agenda supported by the pro-growth majority on the Board.

Further tension between White and Milk arose with Milk's vote in favor of placing a group home within White's district. Subsequently, White would cast the only vote in opposition to San Francisco's landmark gay rights ordinance, passed by the Board and signed by Moscone in 1978. Dissatisfied with the workings of city politics, and in financial difficulty due to his failing restaurant business and his low salary as a supervisor, White resigned from the Board on November 10, 1978. The mayor would appoint his successor, which alarmed some of the city's business interests and White's constituents, as it meant Moscone could tip the balance of power on the Board as well as appoint a liberal representative for the more conservative district. White's supporters urged him to rescind his resignation by requesting reappointment from Moscone and promised him some financial support. Meanwhile Moscone was lobbied not to reappoint by some of the more progressive city leaders, most notably Milk, Silver, and then-California assemblyman Willie Brown.

On 18 November, news broke of the mass deaths of members of Peoples Temple in Jonestown. Prior to the group's move to Guyana, Peoples Temple had been based in San Francisco, thus most of the dead were recent Bay Area residents, including Leo Ryan, the United States Congressman who was murdered in the incident. The city was plunged into mourning, and the issue of White's vacant Board of Supervisors seat was pushed aside for several days.

The assassinations

George Moscone

Moscone ultimately decided to appoint Don Horanzy, a more progressive federal housing official, rather than re-appointing White. On Monday, November 27, 1978, the day Moscone was set to formally appoint Horanzy to the vacant seat, White packed his loaded service revolver from his work as a police officer and ten extra rounds of ammunition into his coat pocket, and had an unsuspecting friend drive him to San Francisco City Hall. Once there, White slipped into City Hall through a basement window, avoiding City Hall's metal detectors. He proceeded to the mayor's office, where Moscone was conferring with Brown.

White requested a meeting with the mayor and was allowed to see him when Moscone's meeting with Brown ended. As White entered Moscone's outer office, Brown exited through a different door. Moscone met White in the outer office, where White asked again to be re-appointed to his former seat on the Board of Supervisors. Moscone declined, and their conversation turned into a heated argument over Horanzy's pending appointment.

Wishing to avoid a public scene, Moscone suggested they retire to a private lounge attached to the mayor's office, so they would not be overheard by those waiting outside. Once inside the small room, White pulled his revolver and shot the mayor twice in the abdomen. White then shot Moscone twice more in the head.

Harvey Milk

White reloaded his weapon and left the office, observed by supervisor Dianne Feinstein, who attempted to engage him in conversation. Brushing her off, White made his way to the opposite side of City Hall and down a corridor to Milk's office. There he asked for a private conference in an adjacent room, where he confronted Milk. According to White, the supervisor smirked at White and told him "too bad" about the Horanzy appointment.

White reported that he began to scream at Milk and that Milk then rose from his seat. White then pulled his gun and shot the supervisor multiple times: three times in the chest, once in the back, and two times again in the head. Feinstein discovered Milk's body, but attempts to resuscitate him were in vain.

White fled City Hall unchallenged and eventually turned himself in to Frank Falzon and another detective, former co-workers at his former precinct. He then recorded a statement in which he acknowledged shooting Moscone and Milk, but denied premeditation, despite his choice to carry a gun, to carry extra ammunition, to reload after the first killing, and to circumvent metal detectors.

Aftermath of the shootings

An impromptu candlelight march started in The Castro leading to the City Hall steps. Tens of thousands attended. Joan Baez led "Amazing Grace," and the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus sang a solemn hymn by Felix Mendelssohn. Upon learning of the assassinations, singer/songwriter Holly Near composed "Singing For Our Lives", a.k.a. "Song For Harvey Milk".

Moscone and Milk both lay in state at San Francisco City Hall. Moscone's funeral at St Mary's Cathedral was attended by 4,500 people. He was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma. Milk was cremated and his ashes were spread across the Pacific Ocean. Dianne Feinstein, as president of the Board of Supervisors, succeeded to the Mayor's office.

Trial and its aftermath

White was tried for first degree murder with special circumstance, a crime which potentially carried the death penalty in California. White's defense team claimed that he was depressed and that this was evidenced by, among other things, his eating of unhealthy foods. This would give rise to the legal term Twinkie defense. They argued that White's depression led to a state of mental diminished capacity, leaving him unable to have formed the premeditation necessary to commit first-degree murder. The jury accepted these arguments, and White was found guilty of the lesser crime of voluntary manslaughter.

The verdict proved to be controversial. In particular, many in the gay community were outraged by the verdict and the resulting reduced prison sentence. Since Milk had been homosexual, many felt that homophobia had been a motivating factor in White's attack upon Milk and/or in the jury's failing to convict White of murder. This groundswell of anger sparked the city's White Night Riots.

The unpopular verdict also ultimately led to a change in California state law which ended the diminished capacity defense.

White was paroled in 1984 and committed suicide less than two years later. In 1998, the San Jose Mercury News and San Francisco magazine reported that Frank Falzon, a homicide detective with the San Francisco police, claimed to have met with White in 1984. Falzon further claimed that at that meeting, White confessed that not only was his killing of Moscone and Milk premeditated, but that he had actually planned to kill Silver and Brown as well. Falzon quoted White as having said, "I was on a mission. I wanted four of them. Carol Ruth Silver, she was the biggest snake ... and Willie Brown, he was masterminding the whole thing." Falzon, who had been a friend of White's and who had taken White's initial statement at the time White turned himself in, said that he believed White's confession.

 

 
 
 
 
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