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Jury Gives ‘Blackest of Hearts’ Life Sentence for Murder of Marriage Equality Activist

jorge diaz johnston steven yinger
Images: facebook @don.johnston.1612; FLORIDA DEPT. OF CORRECTIONS

Jorge Diaz-Johnston was strangled, his body left in a trash can and then taken to a local landfill with the weekly garbage collection.

A jury took less than four hours last week to find a Florida man guilty on all charges in the murder of LGBTQ+ activist and marriage equality pioneer Jorge Diaz Johnston, according to the Tallahassee Democrat and Law&Crime. Despite the verdict, Diaz Johnston’s husband is seeking answers from the District Attorney for their conduct while investigating the case.

Diaz Johnston, a 54-year-old paralegal, vanished from Tallahassee on January 3, 2022. His body was discovered amid the trash of a nearby landfill the following Saturday.

On Friday, Steven Yinger, 38, was found guilty on all charges relating to Diaz Johnston’s killing including first-degree murder, grand theft, grand theft of a motor vehicle, tampering with evidence, and criminal use of a personal ID. Leon Circuit Judge Tiffany Baker-Carper immediately sentenced him to life in prison.

Diaz Johnson met Yinger, who was on parole from prison, through an alcohol recovery program and was letting him live rent-free while Yinger found a job and got back on his feet financially. However, a witness said around the time he disappeared Diaz Johnston intended to evict Yinger because he let a fellow addict frequent their home, according to a search warrant obtained by Law&Crime.

“What Jorge did was genuine Christian love to try to give this man a leg up and an opportunity,” Jorge’s husband, Don Diaz Johnston, told the Tallahassee Democrat. “And Jorge knew that level of kindness and generosity can thaw the coldest of hearts. But the truth is it can’t turn the blackest of hearts.”

Yinger is believed to have killed Diaz Johnston after he was informed of the eviction. After strangling Diaz Johnston, Yinger wrapped the body in a sheet and placed it in a large trash can on wheels, which he rolled out to be collected by unsuspecting sanitation crews. His body was picked up and taken to a landfill where it was discovered the following Saturday.

Diaz Johnston and his husband, Don Diaz-Johnston were one of six couples who successfully sued the Miami-Dade County Clerk's Office after the office denied them marriage licenses in 2014.

The couple had been separated just before the Diaz Johnston’s murder, although the pair had reconciled.

On Friday, Don released a statement thanking authorities for their efforts in finding and convicting Yinger. However, he called out prosecutors for never publicly exonerating him in the case. According to a statement from Don Diaz Johnston, he was still listed as a suspect days after the arrest of Yinger.

“The toll of such an accusation, both emotionally and financially, is incredibly profound and lasting,” Diaz-Johnston wrote in a statement obtained by the Democrat. “Emotionally, being wrongly named as a suspect in a heinous crime can shatter a person's mental and emotional well-being. The constant fear, anxiety and humiliation that accompany such accusations are unbearable.”

He singled out Assistant State Attorney John Fuchs for his harshest criticism.

“During my efforts to prompt law enforcement to clear my name publicly, Mr. Fuchs communicated with me and advised against pushing for such clearance until after the indictment, claiming it was necessary to mislead the actual killer. It has since become evident that this was a falsehood, as law enforcement was aware of the solid evidence they had against the true perpetrator and had no need for such tactics. To put it simply, Mr. Fuchs gave me a choice: clear my name or risk jeopardizing the conviction of my husband’s killer. That was cruel. At the time, I was unaware of the extent of the evidence in their possession, but I am now fully informed.”

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