A Kentucky woman is reportedly refusing to testify against her same-sex partner in a capital murder case by invoking spousal privilege, a law commonly used to protect husbands and wives from testifying against each other in court cases.
Geneva Case, 49, has refused to testify in a Louisville court against her partner, Bobbie Jo Clary, 37, who is accused of fatally beating George Murphy, 64, with a hammer in 2011 before stealing his van. Prosecutors say Case must take the stand because she heard Clary admit to the killing and saw blood on the interior of Murphy’s van after his death, Reuters reports.
"The issue is, I have the right [not to testify],” Case told reporters last month. “Our relationship is our relationship and I feel that I should be equal to everybody else. We should be the same. I should be the same as you."
Under Kentucky law, a person cannot be called to testify against his or her spouse and most states have a similar law. But Kentucky is not among the 13 states that have legalized gay marriage. In 2004, Case and Clary were joined in a civil union in Vermont, where same-sex marriages were later legalized in 2009.
Susan Sommer, an attorney for Lambda Legal, told Reuters that gay couples should have the same legal protections as other married individuals.
"Spousal privilege is one part of the tremendous bundle of protections for a committed couple that come automatically with marriage," Sommer told Reuters.
Clary, who also is charged with tampering with evidence to cover up the killing, claims Murphy tried to sexually assault her, so she defended herself by hitting Murphy on the head with a hammer. If convicted, she faces the death penalty.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, have said that Kentucky’s marital privilege does not pertain to Case.
"And the reason marital privilege does not apply to Ms. Case in her relationship with the defendant is because it is our opinion and our belief that they do not have a marriage that is recognized under Kentucky law,” Stacy Greive, assistant commonwealth attorney for Jefferson County, told Reuters.
Greive said the couple also has not presented proof of their marriage under Vermont law.
"They have a civil union, if you look at Vermont's statutes, they distinguish between civil unions and marriage," she said.