Sex Workers Pissed Off, Frightened by Acquittal of a San Antonio Man Who Killed an Escort

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Lenora Ivie Frago
By now, you've likely heard about Ezekiel Gilbert, the 28-year-old San Antonio man who was acquitted yesterday of murder in the death of Lenora Ivie Frago. In case you've somehow missed it: Gilbert met 23-year-old Frago on Craigslist on Christmas Eve 2009. She came over to his house and he paid her $150. He assumed that Frago would have sex with him in exchange for that money.

Instead, Frago walked outside after about 20 minutes, got in the car of a man who's variously been described as her friend or her "pimp" and drove away. So Gilbert rushed out after her and fired at the departing car with his AK-47. He hit Frago four times in the neck, paralyzing her. After months of pain, brain damaged, hooked up to a breathing tube and being cared for daily by her brother, she died. Upon hearing the jury's not-guilty verdict, Gilbert had the audacity to thank God.

The reaction to the story has been swift and nationwide, with stories appearing on Gawker, the Huffington Post, ThinkProgress, Slate and New York magazine, to name just a handful. "Remind me to stay out of Texas," multiple commenters have written. Or, as one person wrote succinctly on the Gawker story: "I'm glad I don't live in Texas. Holy shit."

"Only in Texas," says Cynthia Barbare. She's a Dallas criminal defense attorney who focuses on state and federal cases (Barbare was one of the first lawyers to expose the infamous fake drugs scandal that embarrassed the shit out of Dallas PD a decade ago). "We look like a bunch of damn heathens with guns, out there saying we'll shoot you if you piss us off. That's not good. That's not a good way to paint Texans. "

"He's guilty of violating 43.02 of the [state] penal code, which is the law against prostitution," Barbare says, specifically the part about it being a criminal offense to offer to engage someone in a sex act in exchange for money. "I mean, he's committing a crime. I understand she may be running away with his money, but is that something that's worth losing your life over? Is that something that should allow someone to take your life?"

In an initial interview with homicide detectives, Gilbert didn't mention anything about theft. Yet his defense attorneys argued that he was using justified, legal force to try to get his property back. They also said that Gilbert didn't intend to kill Frago.

"That's their defense," Barbare says dryly. "That would've been my defense too, that he didn't mean to do it and he used force to try to get [his money] back." But, she adds, "If you're shooting at the car with an AK-47, for God's sake, how can you expect not to hit somebody? He could've killed two people. He's lucky he didn't."

For Audacia Ray, it's just another reminder of how cheaply held the lives of sex workers are. Ray is the founder of the Red Umbrella Project, a New York-based group that advocates for the rights of sex workers; she's also a former sex worker herself.

"It's just further proof that there is no respect or value placed on sex workers' lives," Ray says. "And that's really hard to see day in and day out." Among the sex workers she knows, she says, the reaction to the case has been anger, but not necessarily surprise.

"It's outrage and powerlessness," she says. "And for us, for me, it's also frustrating because you make little gains, but murders are still happening. So what can you do?"

On the blog Tits and Sass, writer and prostitute Charlotte Shane draws ties between the Gilbert case and that of David Elms, founder of hooker review site The Erotic Review and a guy who, among other things, tried to have a prostitute killed because she wouldn't have sex with him.

Shane calls cases like this "the myth of the righteously aggrieved client," adding, "It's a myth that enables men to blackmail, rob, rape and kill sex workers. It is a shame when you pay for a service you don't receive, but it happens all the time in all varieties of the service industry, and it shouldn't ever foster vengeful attempts at singlehandedly policing every worker in an entire field."

The reaction is similarly dismayed over at the private exotic dancer message board Stripper Web. "I was infuriated when I read it," writes one Dallas-based stripper. "I can't see how she stole anything. She was there for 20 of the 30 mins. Legally that's all she had to give, her time. The only bright side I can see now, is that this case can give legal precedence for escorts, masseuses, strippers working private parties, etc. to carry a weapon and use it in defense, even when that defense is to protect your money."

Somehow, that seems overly optimistic. At the same time, though, Barbare isn't sure another jury would ever come to the same conclusion as the Bexar County one did in Gilbert's case.

"I don't know another jury that would do that," she says. "I don't know what happened there. That's an unusual verdict. I don't think that would happen again."

That's cold comfort for Lenora Frago's family, including her young daughter. Outside the courtroom, Gilbert told the assembled reporters that he "sincerely regret[s] the loss of the life of Ms. Frago," adding that he's been in "a mental prison the past four years of my life. I have nightmares. If I see guns on TV where people are getting killed, I change the channel."

A "mental prison" of one's own making certainly beats being dead.

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31 comments
scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

if prostitution were legal, he'd have legal avenues to pursue his grievance.  Prohibition kills another one. 

ittybittydragon
ittybittydragon

I hate the use of language in this case. An escort, by definition, provide companionship as a service. This service does not include sex. I have know people who have used reputable escort services to have a beautiful woman on their arm at a public function or to have someone to sit down to dinner with while out of town on a long stint. These escort services came with a direct message that sex is not part of the service.

A masseuse, by definition, gives massages. Sexual favors are not included in the definition.

A prostitute, by definition, provides sexual services for payment.  If a person has sex for money, he or she is a prostitute. If he or she gives companionship plus sexual favors for a price, he or she is a prostitute. If a person gives a massage with a "happy ending", he or she is a prostitute.

It seems to me that when reporting or blogging on current events that using the English language correctly would make the subject more clear. It seems to me that if you call an escort and have no proof that sexual favors were part of the bargain in the first place - then you shot an escort who left because you asked her for more than was offered. If you kill her for not performing an act that was part of the contract, that is murder.

Since prostitution is illegal in Texas but escort services who do not provide sexual services are legal, why is it immediately assumed that the victim was a prostitute in the first place?

ittybittydragon
ittybittydragon

I hate the use of language in this case. An escort, by definition, provide companionship as a service. This service does not include sex. I have know people who have used reputable escort services to have a beautiful woman on their arm at a public function or to have someone to sit down to dinner with while out of town on a long stint. These escort services came with a direct message that sex is not part of the service.

A masseuse, by definition, gives massages. Sexual favors are not included in the definition.

A prostitute, by definition, provides sexual services for payment.  If a person has sex for money, he or she is a prostitute. If he or she gives companionship plus sexual favors for a price, he or she is a prostitute. If a person gives a massage with a "happy ending", he or she is a prostitute.

It seems to me that when reporting or blogging on current events that using the English language correctly would make the subject more clear. It seems to me that if you call an escort and have no proof that sexual favors were part of the bargain in the first place - then you shot an escort who left because you asked her for more than was offered. If you kill her for not performing an act that was part of the contract, that is murder.

Since prostitution is illegal in Texas but escort services who do not provide sexual services are legal, why is it immediately assumed that the victim was a prostitute in the first place?

Tom434
Tom434

Somehow, that seems overly optimistic. At the same time, though, Barbare isn't sure another jury would ever come to the same conclusion as the Bexar County one did in Gilbert's case.

"I don't know another jury that would do that," she says. "I don't know what happened there. That's an unusual verdict. I don't think that would happen again."

Apparently Barbare missed the OJ case and the Casey Anthony case where the rest of the country said Florida and California  juries were populated by nuts.  Or going back in time Texas juries in the Cullen Davis cases.

Daniel
Daniel

"A 'mental prison' of one's own making certainly beats being dead."


It also beats, you know, prison.

lauralb24
lauralb24

Please know that there ARE people who care about sex workers being murdered along with ALL types of victims and have done so for years.  This lady didn't deserve this and neither does any other murder victim no matter what their job, race, sex, age, etc.  Could the organizations that are there for murder victims and their surviving family/friends do a better job of speaking for sex workers?  YES.  But, to give credit where it's due, there are individuals within these groups that speak out for murdered sex workers.  I started doing this in the recent past and will keep doing so.  I'm not a sex worker but am for decriminalization of prostitution.  Please sign this petition to change the law in Texas: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/638/189/498/texas-shooting-women-for-refusing-sex-is-a-crime/  We need to do all we can to stop this from happening again.  Thanks for your help. 

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

OOPS is leading Texas into becoming the Killing Fields.  That is how the world views the state.

roo_ster
roo_ster

I would not shed a tear if dude ended up in prison.  Not the sort of guy I would want as a neighbor.  But, I must take Thomas More's position on this one:

----

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake! 

----

Yes, even for such an insignificant and pathetic a devil as whore's client.

observist
observist topcommenter

Thank goodness he had a gun to defend himself and his property from this dangerous home invasion.

Americano
Americano

No one should die over $150.  However, that is a risk in that profession.  Regardless of the disclaimers, he was paying for sex, and that lifestyle attracts a certain kind of clientele.  He should still get life or the death penalty because he took a life, who knows what the jury was thinking? 

Rooster0620
Rooster0620

Welcome to Texas.

We carry guns here and we use them. If you try to steal from us, or attempt to harm our families, we may shoot you, regardless or race/creed/chosen profession.

With that being said, you have two choices:

1) Don't steal from us.

2) Take your chances, and possibly end up getting shot.

With that being said, if this offends you, please feel free to go to a state more accommodating to your life as a crook. We actually prefer your thieving ass feels threatened here.

Welcome! Enjoy your stay.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

When anything goes, it’s women who lose. - Camille Paglia (b. 1947), U.S. author, critic, educator. Observer (London, 15 Dec. 1991)

lolotehe
lolotehe

Novelist Margaret Atwood writes that when she asked a male friend why men feel threatened by women, he answered, "They are afraid women will laugh at them." When she asked a group of women why they feel threatened by men, they said, "We're afraid of being killed."

--http://www.pbs.org/kued/nosafeplace/articles/nightmare.html

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

and you lost an advertiser too . . . 

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@lauralb24 I can think of many cases where Murder is justified, Hitler being one.

PersistentID2345
PersistentID2345

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz The killing fields were associated with a dictator that was responsible for the deaths of 25% of his country's population as he brutally forced that society into agrarian socialism.

observist
observist topcommenter

But then again, it doesn't actually matter that it was a gun.  He could have chased the car down the street on foot and stabbed the fleeing criminal through the window with a knife, because knives are just as dangerous.

madbob
madbob

@Rooster0620 Like Wesley said, there was no theft. An escort isn't allowed to sell sex, they sell their time. Sure there may be an implied understanding that sex will be exchanged, but by law that's not how it works. This guy invited this woman into his house and gave her $150. She didn't steal it. This is amazing. By the precedent established here, if I go order some t-shirts from some guy, and he fails to deliver, I can take out my gun and kill him to protect my property? This is insane.

mariannivers
mariannivers

@Rooster0620 Nice. So let's shoot in the head any kid who steals an apple from our backyard. He deserves it. Shoot any women who changes her mind and doesn't want to have sex with you. Stealing 150 bucks DESERVES a long, painful, horrible death.

The whole world sees Americans as dumb, narrow-minded and violent people because of morons like you. And I bet you go to church every Sunday and feel in peace with God's message, don't you ? Ha ! American paradox at it's best.

jillene55
jillene55

@Rooster0620 Texas has gone way, way far beyond "an eye for an eye" justice.  Texans can kill someone who commits an unarmed theft.   I am very shocked by this.  I don't even want to visit the state of Texas anymore.

westley2
westley2

@Rooster0620 You're a complete prick.

1) She didn't steal from him, fuckhead.  He got what he paid for, which did NOT include sex.

2) It's only because Texas is filled with inbred morons like yourself that this murderous bastard was let off.  With any luck, the woman's child will sue him for every cent he's got, and get it.

Daniel
Daniel

@observist Exactly. He could have strangled her with a garden hose. It's just that in this instance he happened to choose an AK-47 as his weapon.  

So after this incident, in which he chose an AK-47 as his weapon instead of a garden hose, are we supposed to institute background checks on gardening equipment? QED 


madbob
madbob

@Rooster0620 Actually even that example is wrong, because this woman provided the service of the time that was promised. I don't know what the guy was protecting. He gave money for time, got the time, shot the escort anyway. This is a total travesty in my opinion.

PersistentID2345
PersistentID2345

@westley2@Rooster0620 "He got what he paid for, which did NOT include sex." 

You lost me on that one.

-----

From a practical perspective, the dude should have done time.

The jury struggled with the actual statute for a good deal of time (his home, night time, possible robbery, etc.). They are bound to applying the facts to the actual law, not what they think things ought to be.

As far as characterizing an entire state, California let some fleeing white bronco passenger off the hook when most people think it was pretty clear that he offed his ex and her man-boy. How about a thoughtless generalization regarding that state?

It was a sad incident indeed, but the business model that this couple had implemented is not one that any astute life insurance agent would underwrite a  policy on.

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