11-27-1978

San Francisco Chronicle front page

The MOSCONE-MILK ASSASSINATIONS occurred in San Francisco; SF Mayor George Moscone and SF Supervisor Harvey Milk were shot and killed in San Francisco City Hall by former Supervisor Dan White. White was angry that Moscone was refusing to re-appoint him to his former Board seat, from which had resigned for personal reasons, and angry with Milk for having lobbied against that re-appointment. These events also launched the political career of Dianne Feinstein, one of White’s allies on the Board, who became a United States.Senator fourteen years after these events.

White requested a meeting with the mayor and was allowed to see Moscone as Moscone’s meeting with Brown ended. As White entered Moscone’s outer office, Brown exited through a different door. Moscone met White in the outer office, with White confronting the mayor about his perceived betrayal. White asked again to be re-appointed to his former seat on the Board of Supervisors. When Moscone declined, their conversation turned into a heated argument over Horanzy’s pending appointment.

Wishing to avoid a public scene, Moscone suggested they retire to a private lounge attached to the mayor’s office, so they would not be overheard by those waiting outside. Once inside the small room, and realizing his pleas would prove ineffective, White pulled his revolver and shot the mayor twice in the abdomen. White then shot Moscone twice more in the head.

White reloaded his weapon and left the mayor’s office, observed by an unwitting Dianne Feinstein — herself a supervisor at the time — who attempted to engage him in conversation. Brushing off her attempts at conversation, White made his way to the opposite side of City Hall and down a corridor to Milk’s office. There, he asked for a private conference in an adjacent room.

Behind closed doors, White confronted Milk. According to White, the supervisor smirked at White and told him “too bad” about the Horanzy appointment. White reported that he began to scream at Milk and that Milk then arose from his seat. With that, White pulled his gun and shot the supervisor multiple times: three times in the chest, once in the back and two times again in the head.

White then fled City Hall unchallenged as chaos reigned inside and turned himself in to two detectives, one Frank Falzon, who were his former co-workers. He then recorded a statement that has been analyzed as a statement of premeditation, and criticized for the leading questions that set up a defense by his two associates. Feinstein discovered Milk’s body, but attempts to resuscitate him were in vain.

White was subsequently convicted of voluntary manslaughter, rather than of first degree murder. The verdict sparked rioting in San Francisco — the so-called White Night Riots — and ultimately led to the state of California abolishing the “diminished capacity” criminal defense. The “Twinkie Defense”, popular shorthand but incomplete description of the diminished capacity defense, gained currency during the trial.

The unpopular verdict also ultimately led to a change in California state law which ended the diminished capacity defense.

White was paroled in 1984 and committed suicide less than two years later. In 1998, the San Jose Mercury News and San Francisco magazine reported that Frank Falzon, a homicide detective with the San Francisco police, claimed to have met with White in 1984. Falzon further claimed that at that meeting, White confessed that not only was his killing of Moscone and Milk premeditated, but that he had actually planned to kill Silver and Brown as well. Falzon quoted White as having said, “I was on a mission. I wanted four of them. Carol Ruth Silver, she was the biggest snake . . . and Willie Brown, he was masterminding the whole thing.”

Falzon, who had been a friend of White’s and who had taken White’s initial statement at the time White turned himself in, said that he believed White’s confession.