A murderer claims to be a victim with an after-the-fact “gay panic” defense.

Dale Wayne Sigler
Dale Wayne Sigler while still incarcerated

via Netflix

Netflix’ latest true crime saga is I Am a Killer: Released. The series is about Dale Wayne Sigler who murdered John Zeltner, a Subway cashier who happened to be gay. Sigler has never denied that he did murder Zeltner. Sigler shot Zeltner six times. He originally claimed that he did so in the act of robbing the restaurant.

Sigler was sentenced to death in 1991. In Texas that is usually a certainty. For the record, while I am a victim of violent crime I am opposed to capital punishment. I would like to strangle the asshole who shot me but our society should be better than that.

Texas commuted Sigler’s sentence to life in prison because the state had changed its laws regarding jury selection. Under Texas law, Sigler became eligible for parole after 30 years. Sigler was paroled.

The reason that a convicted murdered was paroled is probably because Sigler claimed that he got religion. He became a conservative Christian, supposedly even a minister. This happened in Texas after all.

In episode 3, Dale Wayne Sigler changes his story claiming that he killed Zeltner because Zeltner “was trying to blackmail me into a homosexual relationship.” Sigler seems to have memorized the line and uses it repeatedly.

To their credit, Netflix introduces us to Tommy Lenoir, one of the original investigators, who is outraged that Sigler is trying to claim to be a victim of the man he murdered. Lenoir expresses “problems with society being exposed to that type of irrational thought.”

Lenoir notes correctly that Sigler is trying to justify his crime. Even if true (which I seriously doubt), murder is not a justifiable option. Sigler is trying to use a form of the “gay panic defense” after the fact. The truth is that the victim had no leverage over Sigler.

Dale Wayne Sigler insists that he is not homophobic while, at the same time, regurgitating conservative Christian doctrine that homosexuality is an abomination. Furthermore, at one point Sigler says something to the effect of (paraphrasing) “I am a murderer but I have never been a homosexual.”

We cannot know what Sigler means but my reaction was that he was trying to say that being gay is worse than murdering someone. It’s all so profoundly offensive.

Sigler originally took responsibility for his actions possibly because he thought that doing so would keep him off of death row. Were gay panic and extortion the truth, that would have been more compelling than confessing to a murder in the act of a robbery. Texas is not one of the 11 states that have banned the gay panic defense.

The self-righteous Dale Wayne Sigler is a liar. In doing so, he sheds and semblance of remorse over a senseless murder.

I have consistently argued that life without the possibility of parole is the better option as opposed to capital punishment. While Texas is required to consider, for parole, convicts after 30 years of incarceration, nothing required the state to grant parole.

The Zeltner family was already distressed that Sigler was released. They received no notification and were not offered an opportunity to testify before the parole board. By the time that filming wrapped up they were unaware that Sigler had changed his story.

The producers of the film must have informed family members at some point after the wrap. A title card after the last episode reads (in part):

Forest and John Harlan Zeltner reject any attempt by Dale Sigler to blame their brother for his own murder. They remain strongly opposed to the decision to release him from prison.

The failing of the filmmakers is simple. They did not confront Sigler in what is, for the most part, a cinéma vérité style documentary. Once Sigler changed his narrative the filmmakers were obligated to ask some probing questions beginning with: “Why did you not tell that story when you were originally interrogated?”

I have not seen any “redeemed Christian” stories from the religious right. It would seem that they have permission to blame the “homosexual” victim for his own homicide. We’ll see if they eventually take up the cause.

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