Uneasy Freedom

2 minute read
TIME

The mayor’s killer is released

The countdown began last September, when the sign first appeared in San Francisco’s heavily homosexual Castro Street district. It read: 100 DAYS UNTIL DAN WHITE IS FREE. Each day the number diminished, and occasionally the word FREE was crossed out and changed to DEAD.

Shortly after 8 a.m. last Friday, Dan White was freed from prison, having served five years of a seven-year eight-month sentence for killing San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, a gay activist. At noon, 1,000 San Franciscans protested by marching noisily through the city’s financial district, blowing whistles and shouting, “He got away with murder.” Sister Boom-Boom, a transvestite dressed in a nun’s wimple and veil and motorcycle leathers, told the crowd, “Dan White’s got a new life sentence — and it’s not going to be a long one.”

That night, 9,000 marched down Castro Street and burned White in effigy.

The demonstrations were mild compared with the “White Night Riot,” in which 124 were injured when White was convicted only of voluntary manslaughter in 1979. The jury accepted what came to be known as the “Twinkies defense”:

White’s lawyer claimed that his client suffered “diminished mental capacity” caused at least in part by eating too much junk food. A number of San Franciscans accused authorities of not trying hard enough to convict White, a former police officer and fireman.

In letters to a friend printed in the San Francisco Chronicle last week, White pronounced himself in “excellent spirits and health” and proclaimed that despite at tempts by “anti-Dan White factions” to extend his sentence, “in the end everything will turn out just fine.” At Soledad Prison, he was housed in protective custody, along with Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, who became White’s friend. On a conjugal visit, his wife conceived their second child, who was born retarded.

Fearing an assassination attempt, state authorities said only that White planned to live in Los Angeles County (pop. 7.6 million). Milk’s former lover, Scott Smith, says that he is “pretty much resigned to White getting out of prison” and that most other gays are too. Milk would not want revenge, according to Smith. “Harvey was against the death penalty. He was a nonviolent person. He was in favor of gun control.” The fear last week was that others would not be so forgiving.

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