Murder Trial of Miami Gay Rights Activist Postponed

Jorge Diaz-Johnston. Photo via Facebook.

A judge has ordered a continuance in the murder trial of a well-known Miami gay rights activist.

On Aug. 10, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Jason Jones ordered a reset of the State of Florida’s case against Steven Yinger. The trial has been rescheduled for Dec. 11.

Yinger is accused of killing Jorge Diaz-Johnston, brother of former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and a key figure in the legalization of same-sex marriage in Florida.

“It’s so sad and shocking,” said Elizabeth Schwartz, an attorney on Pareto v. Ruvin, the groundbreaking case that paved the way for same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses in Miami-Dade County. “Jorge was such a good guy with a powerful voice, so for his voice to be silenced so tragically is a real loss. He was a wonderful human and great voice for our community.”

Diaz-Johnston was strangled sometime between Jan. 3 and Jan. 5, 2022, according to court documents. His body was discovered wrapped in bed linens in a Jackson County landfill.

Four months later, Yinger was indicted on charges of first-degree murder, tampering with physical evidence, grand theft, theft and criminal use of personal identification information.

If convicted, Yinger could get the death penalty. Tallahassee attorney Richard Junnier said he was confident the state would prosecute the case zealously, but warned of increasing hostilities toward LGBT people in Florida.

“While a jury will decide the accused’s guilt or innocence, violence against the LGBTQ+ community was already too commonplace and will only continue to rise due to the government’s evolving persecution of the LGBTQ community,” Junnier said.

At the time of the murder, Diaz-Johnston was separated from his husband, Don Johnston. The 37-year-old Yinger, who has a lengthy record of arrests and jail time, was living with Diaz-Johnston, 54, in a Tallahassee apartment.

Yinger entered a not guilty plea and a pre-trial hearing was scheduled for September, but the judge assigned to the case – Leon County Circuit Court Judge Kevin Carroll – died unexpectedly in March. Yinger is currently being held in the Leon County jail on no bond.

The prosecution is led by state attorney Adrian Mood. The court has appointed Tallahassee defense attorney Zachary Ward to represent Yinger.

Junnier said the current political climate could have been a motivator in this case.

“Whenever the government implicitly says LGBTQ+ people are less human, it tacitly gives permission to sick minds to inflict violence against the gay and trans community,” Junnier said.

Schwartz said it wasn’t a stretch to make that connection, adding she has seen her fair share of outrageous and awful cases involving trans Floridians.

“It’s a straight line between dehumanizing our community and passing laws that allow people to discriminate against us and people feeling totally empowered to commit violence against us,” Schwartz said.

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