News Briefing
Feb 20, 2014 | 728 views | 0 0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gay man appeals trial denial

Convicted killer William F. Smithson has appealed last month’s denial of a new murder trial.

Smithson is convicted of the 2006 strangulation death of coworker Jason Shephard inside Smithson’s home.

But Smithson’s advocates maintain there’s no direct evidence linking him to Shephard’s murder.

They say Smithson’s first-degree murder conviction was due largely to homophobia and that police failed to investigate F. Bruce Covington, who was inside Smithson’s home when Shephard died.

But authorities say Smithson administered the date-rape drug gamma hydroxybutyric acid, or GHB, to Shephard and tried to rape him prior to strangling him.

Covington was convicted of drug-related charges stemming from the incident, but prosecutors say he wasn’t Shephard’s killer.

In a prior interview, Smithson said he was heavily drugged by Covington and passed out while Shephard was still alive.

Smithson requested a new trial, claiming his trial attorney failed to represent him effectively.

But last month, Delaware County Common Pleas Judge Barry C. Dozor denied Smithson’s request, holding that his Smithson’s trial attorney adequately represented him.

On Feb. 12, attorney Henry F. DiBenedetto filed a notice of appeal on behalf of Smithson in the state Superior Court.

DiBenedetto also filed a motion requesting that Smithson be declared a pauper for purposes of the appeal.

Neither side had a comment for this story.

Former Scouts building still vacant

Four months after the Boy Scouts of America Cradle of Liberty Council vacated a city facility on the Ben Franklin Parkway, there is still no official word on its future use.

“When we have something to announce, we, of course, will,” said Mark McDonald, a spokesperson for Mayor Nutter, last week.

Palma M. Rasmussen, a disability-rights advocate and LGBT ally, said Nutter should consult with community leaders before deciding to do with the building.

“The people of Philadelphia should know, and be aware of, the intentions of the Nutter administration,” Rasmussen said. “How can any governing body work if the people aren’t included?”

McDonald had no comment on whether Nutter would consult with LGBT leaders prior to deciding the building’s future use.

Suggestions for the building include converting it into an LGBT health clinic, a shelter for homeless LGBT youths or a community center for groups that promote nonviolent social change.

Cradle occupied the building for about 85 years but vacated the premises last October as part of a legal settlement that also gave Cradle $825,000 in city tax dollars.

For years, the city was criticized for allowing Cradle to occupy the building while the group refused to include LGBTs, atheists and agnostics in its programming.

Defrocked minister to preach in Philadelphia

Frank Schaefer, a former Methodist minister who was defrocked last year after performing his son’s same-sex wedding will speak in Philadelphia this weekend.

Schaefer, 52, will preach 11 a.m. Feb. 23 at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown, 6001 Germantown Ave.

The public is invited to attend.

Following the service, Schaefer will convene a question-and-answer session and a light lunch will be served.

“I am looking forward to a time of celebration of recent strides toward LGBT equality, and to sharing some challenging ideas of how we as religious people can be change agents,” Schaefer told PGN.

In a related matter, Schaefer said he was honored to receive an “Equality Award” from Equality Forum Feb. 14.

“To receive this award means so much to me,” he said. “It is redemptive, in light of losing my 20-year career as a pastor and being found guilty of violating church law over an act of love for my gay son. It encourages me in my fight against bigotry and discrimination in organized religion.”

— Timothy Cwiek Pianist returns to center for fundraising show

Acclaimed pianist Ching-Yun Hu will mark her fourth return engagement Feb. 22 at William Way LGBT Community Center, 1315 Spruce St.

The Taiwanese-born classical musician will perform Scriabin, Grandos, Albeniz and Chopin. The concert begins at 8 p.m., with a VIP reception at 7 p.m.

The event will raise funds for the center.

“I’m thrilled with the partnership I’ve built with the William Way,” Hu said. “I love that the center has become a dedicated venue for classical music.”

General admission is $25, and the VIP reception, which includes wine and hors d’oeuvres with Hu, is $50.

For more information, visit or email

— Jen Colletta Orgs. to stage parenting session

The American Fertility Association and the Fairfax Cryobank will host a free event called Growing Your Family: LGBTQ Options from noon-3 p.m. Feb. 22 at William Way LGBT Community Center, 1315 Spruce St.

Prospective parents will be learn about making decisions on sperm donors, working with egg donors and surrogates, fertility preservation for the transgender community and legal rights and responsibilities involving LGBT parenting.

The event is free but requires reservations. For more information or to reserve a spot, call 718-853-1411.

‘Glam’ up for ActionAIDS

ActionAIDS will host Glamsino Royale, a casino-themed fundraiser, from 7-9 p.m. Feb. 27 at the Kimpton Hotel Palomar, 117 S. 17th St. The event is staged in conjunction with Kimpton’s ninth-annual Red Ribbon campaign, which raises money for HIV/AIDS groups across the country.

ActionAIDS director of development Michael Byrne said the James Bond theme was inspired by a similar Red Ribbon party in Salt Lake City, from where Hotel Palomar’s new general manager hails.

“When I think of casinos, I immediately think of James Bond and I thought of drag-queen Bond girls,” Byrne said. “Who doesn’t love a good Bond girl?”

Tickets are $50 and will include five casino chips each. Chips can be used to play casino games and those who win will be dealt extra chips and entered into a raffle contest.

“Project Runway” contestant Viktor Luna, who revealed his HIV-positive status on the show, will be the special guest.

“HIV is not something to keep to yourself and HIV is nothing to be ashamed of; that is something that ActionAIDS is working on,” Byrne said. “We should all stand up and know our status and having brave people like Luna go on network TV and say, ‘I am HIV-positive’ is incredibly strong and powerful.”

Organizers hope to raise $15,000, with fundraising going towards the general operation of the organization.

ActionAIDS executive director Kevin Burns said the event is a win-win for attendees.

“It will be a fabulous party in a wonderful venue with all of the very best people in Philly and, at the same time, you are helping to raise money for those living with HIV,” he said.

For more information, visit

Community center hosts Mardi Gras party

The Old Pine Community Center will host its sixth-annual Mardi Gras Party and Silent Auction from 6:30-10:30 p.m. Feb. 28 at the center, 401 Lombard St.

The party will generate fundraising for Old Pine’s programming, which includes outreach to youth, homeless and seniors, adult education and 12-step programs.

The New Orleans-themed party will include a variety of cuisine, wine, beer, soft drinks and a silent auction.

Tickets are $30 for adults and $10 for children.

For more information or to order tickets, visit or call 215-627-8110.

— Angela Thomas

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