Wrongful Death of Fred Paez

In 1979-80, I was working for my Master’s at Rice University, Houston, TX, while still a Captain in the Army.  This was in preparation for my going to USMA, West Point, as an Assistant Professor.  In this year at Rice, I was also an Adjunct Professor, teaching the Military History course for Dr. Ira T. Gruber, who was on sabbatical.

A graduate student named Fred Paez, widely known as gay, had been killed by police gunfire.  The Montrose Patrol, a group of gays and lesbians (there was no LGBT community at the time), and their supporters, knew I was military.  They came to me for my opinion.  They advertised across Houston that I would “testify” at a TV news conference.

I came under intense pressure from Army channels.  I was told, in multiple telephone calls and letters, that I should keep my mouth shut, and not help some “dead fuc*ing fagg*t”; or my career would be in jeopardy.

However, this case cried out for a terminal ballistics expert and an expert in firearms manufacture.   The police officer who did the shooting (K. McCoy) was using a non-issue pistol (which was authorized at the time).  Specifically, he had an M-1911A1 pistol in .45 ACP caliber.  But, there were public reports that McCoy fashioned himself a gunsmith and he had worked on the gun.   When I examined the pistol (things were looser in those days and I was given access to the pistol when the Montrose Patrol made a public issue of the shooting) I found that not only had the feed ramp been worked on with abrasive rolls, but the trigger and hammer had been worked and the trigger pull lightened to 2 pounds.

The pistol in this condition was totally unsafe.  Trigger pull is the amount of pressure on the front face of the trigger which will move the trigger back, such that the mechanism of the pistol will function and fire.  Had the pistol been loaded and dropped such that the barrel was pointing up, gravity would have pulled the trigger.  People hold fountain pens with more than 2 pounds of pressure.  This raised the specter that perhaps McCoy had drawn the gun, flipped the safety off and then a minor trigger finger spasm caused the gun to discharge.

The autopsy report and the scene photographs (again, I was given access because the Montrose Patrol made quite a public stink) showed that the bullet entered in the low left of the rear (posterior) of the skull, just to the left of the cervical spine.  The bullet traveled through the brain and exited out the forehead, above the left eyebrow.  This shot caused instantaneous death and instantaneous cessation of all movement by Fred.

McCoy said he was arresting Fred for public lewdness and had him in the spread-eagle position against a panel truck.  He said that he was patting Fred for weapons but that Fred resisted and fought.  But, there in one photo, was Fred’s bloody left palm print, on the side of the panel truck, at about 5 feet above the ground.  No way.  Fred died instantly.  Gravity pulled him straight down to the ground.  The only way that palm print got there is that McCoy put Fred’s hand in the blood pool gushing from Fred’s head, lifted Fred up and placed the palm print there himself.

At the news conference, I stated, as forcefully as I thought I could, that Fred Paez was a victim of at least reckless disregard.  I was peppered with questions, asked to hold up the pistol and explain the trigger pull and so forth.  One reporter repeatedly asked “Was Fred Paez murdered?” and “Did the cop murder Fred?”.  (questions were shorter in those days, not the blowhard filibusters that we see today)  A news anchor saw the pained expression on my face as I tried to dodge the murder question.

He interviewed me off camera and I gave him full details as enumerated above.  I told him that it was either voluntary manslaughter for putting the pistol in that position with its too light trigger pull; or it was an execution.   Given the bloody palm print, my hunch was that this was an execution.  The news anchor called his camera crew over and, with me watching, held up the pistol and gave an impassioned report along the lines of a “man died for two little pounds”.

Fred was buried on a dark, stormy and cold day.  Not many were present at graveside.  Fred’s family was barely represented as they were embarrassed that Fred was gay (not a normal thing to reveal in public in those days).  A few of the Montrose Patrol braved the elements and were there.

A grand jury indicted McCoy for involuntary manslaughter.  There was much public attention on both sides.    The prosecution effort was half hearted, at best. I was told to stay away from the trial.   A not guilty verdict was returned.

But the news anchor had vowed to me to keep the story alive and to keep looking into it.  He was true to his word.  Some 18 months later, McCoy was filmed leaving a bathhouse.  It then became public that he was also gay and was Fred’s secret lover.  He murdered Fred because he thought that Fred was going to “out” him.   Thanks to the first trial, McCoy was protected by double jeopardy.  I should have fought harder for Mr. Paez.

That became a turning point for me as I resolved to truly live up to that portion of the Cadet Prayer which reads ”Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole can be won.”.

I have lost track of the news anchor, I imagine he is retired in Houston.

Mr. Paez’s grave is not much visited anymore.

The Montrose Patrol is gone now.  At the time, it was a crime, a Class C Misdemeanor, to be gay in Houston.   Beatings and murders (there had been 10 murders in 6 months) of gays in the Montrose section of Houston were commonplace.  Thugs, even from out of state, came to Houston for “gay  bashing” contests.  The Houston Police Department did little because being gay was illegal.  But, when the Patrol ramped up and was in its heyday, beatings became uncommon and the murders stopped.  In a few years, Kathy Whitmire became Mayor.  The gay laws were changed.  The Houston Police Department was cleaned out and reformed.  The Montrose Patrol had discharged its self-appointed duties, faithfully and well, and disbanded.

Most everyone from the Montrose patrol, and from the gay community within Rice, are long gone.  The suppression of the gays helped lead to the unchecked spread of AIDS, the “Gay Death”.   They have all simply died out.  Even Tom Rievely, a widely respected Professor of Mathematics at Rice University, but also gay, went to his grave before his time had run.  As with Fred, their graves are forgotten now.

There was one particular straight supporter/organizer of the Montrose Patrol.  She was a brilliant graduate student, freshly returned from a fellowship for her Master’s, in York, England. She came equipped with an acute sense of justice and right.  This woman, Elaine Marie Bonilla, became my beloved spouse in 1982.  After a nearly 4 year struggle against the effect of a devastating stroke, Elaine left this earth in 2014.  Her remains lie in Plot 19, Block 130, Sunset Hills Cemetery, Bozeman.  Her grave is frequently visited and there is always a fresh, single red rose.

Her spirit soars with the eagles.  She was an author of children’s books, many of which are in print to this day.  And her sense of justice and right, has never been extinguished and is prominent in those books.