Roommate sentenced to life in prison for murder of Fla. gay rights advocate

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Roommate sentenced to life in prison for murder of Fla. gay rights advocate

A 38-year-old man was convicted Friday at the Leon County Courthouse in Tallahassee Fla., of the first-degree murder of a prominent gay rights activist. Photo by Michael Rivera/Wikimedia Commons

A 38-year-old man was convicted Friday at the Leon County Courthouse in Tallahassee Fla., of the first-degree murder of a prominent gay rights activist. Photo by Michael Rivera/Wikimedia Commons

Dec. 16 (UPI) — The former roommate of a prominent Florida gay rights activist has been convicted of first-degree murder in connection with the death of Jorge Diaz Johnston in Tallahassee.

A circuit court judge imposed a life sentence Friday immediately after a jury found Steven Yinger, 38, guilty for the murder of Johnston.

Yinger was also convicted of several other crimes related to the murder, including grand theft, grand theft of a motor vehicle, tampering with physical evidence and criminal use of personal identification information.

The jury deliberated for just four hours before coming back with a guilty verdict.

Leon Circuit Judge Tiffany Baker-Carper then imposed the sentence on Yinger, who had been in and out of the county detention center and served at least three previous stints in state prison.

It was after one of those prison sentences in October 2021 that Diaz Johnston, 54, invited Yinger to move in with him at his Tallahassee apartment until he was back on his feet.

Diaz Johnston demanded Yinger leave in early January 2022 after his car and other items were stolen. The court was told Yinger strangled Diaz Johnston to death a day later, dumping his body in a nearby dumpster. It was discovered a short time later in a landfill.

Police quickly zeroed in on Yinger as a suspect.

His defense lawyer did not call any witnesses during the trial and Yinger did not testify on his own behalf. His defense team instead told jurors there was no DNA evidence linking Yinger to the murder.

“Mr. Yinger has ended my husband’s life and he ended all of his hopes and dreams if he could get past the addiction,” Diaz Johnston’s husband, Don Diaz Johnston, told WCTV outside the courthouse, where he also thanked members of the Tallahassee Police Department.

“He was studying religion at [Florida State University] and was hoping to fulfill his lifelong dream of finishing a doctorate.”

The couple was separated but had not ruled out a reconciliation.

“I never get to know that now, as a result of the defendant’s actions,” Don Diaz Johnston told reporters.

Diaz Johnston was known for helping people with recovery.

“What Jorge did was genuine Christian love to try to give this man a leg up and an opportunity,” Don Diaz Johnston told the Tallahassee Democrat. “And Jorge knew that that level of kindness and generosity can thaw the coldest of hearts. But the truth is it can’t turn the blackest of hearts.”

The couple first made headlines in 2015 when they joined several other couples in a federal lawsuit that ultimately allowed for gay weddings across Florida, coming months ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court‘s decision to do the same nationwide.

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