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SF Court Nixes Raped
What's the Matter with California,General
© Jack Cashill
nly in San Francisco could a person who fought off a would-be rapist expect to spend the rest of his life in prison.
But such is the fate of Steven Nary, a former sailor in the U.S. Navy, who has already spent more than fourteen years behind bars. Earlier this week, the San Francisco Superior Court rejected a writ of habeas corpus to overturn, for lack of evidence, an earlier denial of parole by the California Parole Board.
The court ruled that “the motive for the crime was trivial in relation to the offense.” Bizarrely, the court did not challenge the motive: namely that after unsuccessfully begging the 53 year-old man on his back to stop trying to penetrate him, Nary “exploded.”
Only in San Francisco could attempted rape be considered “trivial.” Indeed, the court expressed shock and dismay that “ the Petitioner [Nary] blames the victim to some degree.”
A quick review of the facts suggests that, yes, the “victim” does deserve the blame and more than just “to some degree.”
Juan Pifarre, a 53-year old Argentina native, had started the evening at a friend’s house in the Castro district where he and they had a few drinks.
Sometime that evening Pifarre also did at least a few lines of cocaine. He then drove to that most of unlikely of places for a middle-aged gay man, the Palladium, a co-ed dance club for the under-25 set.
If sex or companionship were what Pifarre wanted, Lord knows there were a hundred other clubs in San Francisco that promised a dramatically safer and easier score than this one.
Pifarre obviously wanted something more. He had two priors for sexual offenses, a reputation as a belligerent drunk, and a history of violence with his sexual prey.
Pifarre’s one time attorney and neighbor, Ralph Johansen, would testify at the 1999 trial that he once defended Pifarre on an assault charge stemming from an incident at an unnamed club whose description perfectly matched the Palladium.
Apparently, Pifarre had grabbed the crotch of a 19 year-old male and asked for oral sex. This led to a fight in which both were charged with battery.
Johansen had lived downstairs from Pifarre in the Castro for 13 years until 1993. Many a night he saw Pifarre come home with what appeared to be young military types. Often he heard “lots of noise, lots of screaming,” and at least once he heard a full-blown fight that culminated in a fist going through a window.
Johansen characterized Pifarre as being “cold and angry” all of the time and often drunk. The court was silent on all of this.
On the night in question Pifarre found the young sailor at the Palladium too drunk to dance. After Pifarre sat down with him, Nary mentioned that he had to leave to catch the last BART back to the ship. Pifarre offered him a ride.
“He seemed like a nice person,” Nary testified at his trail, “trusting person, and I’d get back to the base sooner.” Nary accepted the offer. It would be the last ride the lanky teenager would take as a free man.
On the drive, Pifarre told Nary he had been to a party earlier. There he had had too much to drink and done too much cocaine, both likely true. He wasn’t sure that he could make it across the bridge and back, likely false.
“His wife was out of town,” Pifarre told Nary. He suggested that Nary “could stay at his house. He could call some girls.”
Pifarre, in fact, did have a wife, the result of a sham marriage to keep him from being deported.
Nary’s memory on what happened chez Pifarre has always been imperfect. He remembers Pifarre performing oral sex on him through a haze. He wrote to me from prison about Pifarre’s attempt to penetrate him.
“I felt stuck. I could not speak. I could not move, and I could not do anything. He just kept trying and trying over and over. In fact it brings me to tears as I write this because I have avoided this image for so long.”
Nary had no idea he was describing the precise reaction of a person who had been slipped a date rape drug, then all the rage among sexual predators in the gay community. Nary’s public defender did not even raise the possibility at the trial.
"Please, stop," the lanky, 18-year-old sailor begged as he struggled through a paralyzing stupor. Pifarre would not. Finally, yes, Nary exploded. And the Superior Court of San Francisco cannot understand why.
Although Steven had not been involved in an act of violence before and has not since—and 14 years in prison can test anyone’s resolve—the Court finds him “an unreasonable risk to society.”
Steven’s pro-bono attorney, the estimable Steve Gruel, will appeal, but Steven’s best hope is for someone of influence in the gay community to come to his defense, someone who cannot be accused of homophobia.
Although power can quickly corrupt those who have not known it, I suspect there is a residue of mercy within the gay community waiting to be tapped. Steven just needs someone to tap it.
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