The Myth of Twinkie Defense

Ask anyone who's heard of Dan White -- and there are fewer and fewer people who have -- how it was that the clean-cut, conservative San Francisco supervisor received such a light sentence in the shooting deaths of progressive San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and gay Supervisor Harvey Milk 25 years ago, and it brings an automatic response: the "Twinkie defense." The impressionable jury, they'll say, swallowed the defense contention that Dan White gobbled Twinkies, which blasted sugar through his arteries and drove him into a murderous frenzy. About as simple as: "Eat a Twinkie, commit a murder."

 

As Thursday's 25th anniversary of the killings approaches, what survives is a shared understanding of the gross miscarriage of justice: that an angry young man many thought should have received the death penalty instead was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and got a meager sentenceof less than eight years (with time off for good behavior, he would end up serving only five years, one month and nine days).

 

The "Twinkie defense" is so ingrained in our culture that it appears in law dictionaries, in sociology textbooks, in college exams and in more than 2, 800 references on Google. Only a few of them call it what it is: a myth.

 

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