There is a young man imprisoned in the California State Prison system whose story has to be told again and again until he is pardoned or otherwise released from his sentence. His story really boils down to one question: Should not our sons be accorded the same legal protections as our daughters if they are raped or fighting off an attempted rape?
This is the story of Steven Nary, an 18-year old sailor who stood nary a chance after a night on the town turned horribly wrong. I first stumbled upon this account when I read Jack Cashill's book What's the Matter With California where it is fully documented.
After about nine months as an apprentice airman in the U.S. Navy, stationed across the bay in Alameda, Nary ventured into San Francisco alone on Saturday, March 23, 1996. Those who knew him regarded him as a peaceful young man. He had no history of violence or any prior problem with the law. He had, in fact, been the highest scoring high school basketball player in Riverside County, California as senior. If he had any flaw, it was being terribly naïve.
On the evening that changed his life, Steven met up with a friend, had some pizza and more than a few beers and wandered around San Francisco. The two friends got separated so Steven went to the Palladium, a co-ed dance hall for the under-25 crowd, where he thought his friend might be. He was sitting at a table by himself when an older man, accompanied by two women, joined him.
The man's name was Juan Pifarre. He had entered the country illegally some years back from Argentina, secured his green card through a sham marriage, and established himself as a prominent voice in the Hispanic community. What Steven did not know is that Pifarre, now 53, was gay and had a history of sexual assault, including two prior arrests.
They got to talking and, after a time, Steven got up to leave to return to his ship. The stranger offered him a ride, which Steven, still not too steady on his feet, readily accepted. In the car, Pifarre told Steven he was too coked up to drive across the Bay Bridge-Pifarre had, in fact, been snorting cocaine--but suggested that they go to his apartment, call some girls (claiming his wife was out of town), have a party and then Steven could crash there and return to the ship in the morning.
Steven agreed. Pifarre then made some sexual overtures in the car and persisted in handing Steven two twenties. Confused, drunk and not sure what to make of this, Steven took the money hoping this would stop the man from badgering him. Steven volunteered this information to the prosecutors. They would hang him with it.
At the apartment, the man continued to harass Steven for oral sex, but all Steven wanted to do was sleep and readily passed out. The next thing Steven knew he was being given oral sex by this man. Steven was horrified by what was happening yet was somehow so immobilized that he couldn't resist. There is excellent reason to believe he had been slipped a date rape drug, then the rage among sexual predators in the gay community.
This would explain why Steven, a gangly but athletic young man, was unable to move and defend himself against an inebriated, coked up, overweight 53 year-old with a heart problem. Steven's testimony about his state of mind that night is consistent with and reminiscent of testimony from that of date rape drug victims. This was not argued by the public defender at the trial. No tests were performed on Steven to verify.
A heterosexual, Steven would later testify that he was "disgusted" by what was happening to him, words that would ultimately, in a strange twist of logic, be used against him as an indication of his self-loathing homophobia. In any case, he would not be the first individual who found him or herself in a frightening, unimaginable situation, fully unprepared, where things were happening faster than solutions came to mind. Add drugs and alcohol to the picture, and it becomes even more complicated.
Steven, still passed out, awoke again in a haze only this time to find Pifarre trying to forcibly have anal sex with him. At this point, Steven mustered the strength to resist the rape and a fight ensued. Pifarre tried to gouge Steven's eyes out. At some point, one of them yanked a towel rack from the wall which Pifarre used to break Steven's hand. Steven had never been in this kind of life-threatening altercation before and did what he could to survive.
Pifarre, as testimony would show, was no stranger to violent altercations. He had been arrested at least once for indecent exposure and another time for battery stemming from a sexual molestation. He had a track record of heavy drug and alcohol consumption and a history of visiting straight bars in search of straight sailors on leave. While he was somewhat prominent in San Francisco's gay community, he also had many enemies, given his violent temperament. Bear in mind, Steven had no history of violence towards anyone, gay or straight, and had spent nine months in the Navy with no incidences of any sort.
Pifarre proved an overpowering adversary, due in great part to all of the cocaine in his system. Steven couldn't get this man to stop and during the course of the fight, started to choke him. Pifarre finally passed out, and Steven ran off, leaving the man on the floor, still breathing.
Upon returning to the ship and after speaking with the Navy Chaplain and having his broken hand taken care of, Steven decided to call the police and inform them of the incident. The police informed Steven that the body had been found earlier that day. Steven voluntarily turned himself in. Amazingly, Steven's bail was set at $1 million, even though this was his first brush with the law, even though he voluntarily turned himself in and gave a statement, even though he had defensive wounds. These are the basic facts of the case.
One has to question whose story makes sense? Ask yourself why this older gay man living in the gayest city in the world, surrounded by gay clubs and bars, would have the audacity to go to a straight club, hustle a straight kid, give him the impression that he was straight (by being in the company of two women, referring to his wife, offering a private party with girls) and actually expect to succeed in having gay sex? It would ONLY make sense if he knew the victim would be so inebriated or drugged that he couldn't do anything to resist.
The ME's report doesn't indicate when this man actually died. He apparently had considerable amounts of cocaine in his system, a history of heart disease and his thyroid cartilage was broken.
Steven was removed from the ship under circumstances that might present a basis for legal challenge. The JAGs did not take this case. There appear to be some procedural issues involving the Navy that possibly were not complied with regarding Steven's release to civil authorities. He was held in SF City jail for 3 years without exercise or sunlight.
His trial was a fiasco. It took place in 1998 during the exact same week Matthew Shepard's killers were being tried in Wyoming. The San Francisco gay community was feeling empowered and eager to punish the homophobes in its midst. This is precisely how the prosecutors and press presented this case. They turned it into a morality play in which a straight man, who was, in their opinion really gay, was outraged by the fact that a gay man had oral sex with him (as evidenced by his testimony of being disgusted) and went into a homophobic rage, killing the man because he didn't want anyone to know he was really gay.
There is nothing in Steven's past to suggest that any of this was true, and there was no evidence supporting this contention-just pure speculation by the prosecution.
Steven couldn't possibly get a fair trial in San Francisco but the judge allowed the case to proceed. He even turned a blind eye to Hispanic groups that showed up at the trial wearing buttons of protest.
The jury convicted Steven of second degree homicide with a deadly weapon (the towel rack-yet the victim's death was apparently due to strangulation) and sentenced him to 17 years to life. He has been in prison ever since.
While serving his sentence, Steven became a devout Catholic; has led an exemplary life; and has taken every opportunity to better his station in life and educate himself.
He was just denied parole and those of us who have been following his case are crushed. But we will not rest until we bring justice to this young man.
This case is riddled with doubt. The police work appears sloppy at best. You will find more questions than there are answers. There are numerous procedural as well as evidentiary issues. Steven had no money and had to rely upon three different public defenders.
Somehow this case was construed as one of homophobia and murder as opposed to one of an accidental death that occurred when the victim of a sexual assault and brutal attempted rape defended himself. In any other place on the planet, Steven would not have spent a day in jail. Were he a woman, his testimony, the condition of the apartment and the defensive wounds would have been sufficient to "get him off." But the San Francisco Gay community made an example out of this boy and twisted his story to protect a predatory gay man. One would think leaders in the gay community would be strong advocates for treating self-defense in the course of a gay rape the same as is done for heterosexual rape.
Justice and our humanity dictate that our sons be accorded the same legal protection as our daughters when defending themselves in the course of a vicious rape. Even if Steven were gay, even if he consented to oral sex, even if he enjoyed it, even if he went over to this man's apartment thinking about sex (none of which is true), that doesn't mean he consented. When he said "no," he should have been entitled to the same legal protection as a woman who says "no" to a man. While there is some doubt as to whether or not he actually killed the man (he left him breathing, the door was left open for 4 days, another person was seen at the apartment, he had many enemies...maybe someone else finished him off), assuming that Steven was responsible for Pifarre's death, his conviction should have, at best, been considered justifiable homicide.
This young man has served his sentence with a degree of grace very few of us could muster. He is from a family of little means and I can't think of anyone more deserving of help-especially because he has never once asked for it. He tried to handle this himself, in all of his naïveté, but at every turn, the deck was stacked against him. From the minute he left that ship, he stood nary a chance.
Steven needs an experienced criminal defense attorney who knows the California criminal bar. Expertise with the Code of Military Justice and related procedural issues would be advisable.
Thanks to all of you for taking the time to read about this injustice. If you would like to read more about it, you can read Jack Cashill's What's the Matter with California and/or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is never too late for justice to be served. It's time for Steven to be dealt a different hand.