December 6, 2023
Watch: Family Members Slam Lack of Hate Crime Charges in Gay AZ Man's Murder, Mutilation
Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 2 MIN.
Bernardo Pantaleon, 30, a proudly out resident of Phoenix, Arizona, was allegedly beaten, tortured, shot multiple times, and mutilated by suspects who bragged about the killing on social media, disparaged Pantaleon for being gay, and sent his family photos of his abused corpse.
"Family members described him as a funny, lovable man who wasn't afraid to be himself living a gay life," local news channel 3TV reported.
"Sadly, it's how he lived his life that appears to have made him a target," 3TV added.
But hate crime charges have yet to be filed, despite social media jubilation on the part of the suspects over having killed a gay man and discussions about murdering other LGBTQ+ people.
Pantaleon's bereaved relatives say "it's clear" that he was murdered because he was gay, and the lack of such charges "hurts" them, local news source AZFamily said.
As previously reported, Pantaleon's nude, mutilated body was found in a Phoenix park on Nov. 26. His family received the horrific photos via social media several days later, on Nov. 30. Authorities were able to trace the photos back to three suspects, and also uncovered a trove of messages in which the suspects discussed the killing and expressed glee, saying that LGBTQ+ people were not welcome in their Phoenix neighborhood.
"It's just sad to lose somebody based on their sexuality, and because he was so proud of it because he wasn't scared to be himself," Pantaleon's cousin, Gasdeli Pantaleon, told the news outlet. "That's the part that breaks us."
Another cousin, Anai Pantaleon, said, "Just by thinking that he suffered, it just haunts us. We can't even imagine [what] he went through."
The suspects were soon in custody: Manual Carrasco-Calderon and Leonardo Santiago, both 21 years old, and 20-year-old Jose Rodriguez all face first-degree murder charges.
"It's a little bit of a relief," Gasdeli said of the arrests, "but then when we look at the charges and don't see any type of hate crime, it hurts us."
Added Gasdeli: "It's clear that he got attacked because of his sexuality."
Santiago, who confessed to shooting Pantaleon, said in one of the messages discovered by investigators that he returned to the scene of the crime after the slaying with Carrasco-Calderon, who mutilated Pantaleon's body with a knife. Santiago and Carraso-Calderon face additional charges of "crimes against the dead."
"We absolutely ask for justice," Anai told AZFamily, "and want them to pay for what they did to him."
When it comes to hate crime charges, though, lawyer Adam Reed told the news outlet that Arizona's "sentencing statute... allows you to use hate crime as an aggravating factor." However, Reed added, "It's not like other states, or on the federal level."
Santiago reportedly claimed that Pantaleon's slaying was in response to him making "an unwanted advance" on Santiago that "made him uncomfortable," KPNX detailed.
Though not permitted in a number of states, the so-called "gay panic" defense is still allowed in Arizona.
Pantaleon's bereaved family have established a GoFundMe in which they described the victim as "full of love" and "the funniest, [most] caring loving person..."
Watch the 3TV report by following this link.
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.