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Dan White and the Twinkie Defense

October 2, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

By Phin Upham

Dan White and Harvey Milk clashed frequently, and publicly, over issues that divided the communities of San Francisco. Hardly anti-gay, White had voted pro-gay on several important issues, what seemed to push White over the edge was what he saw as betrayal.

Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone both gave White the political cold shoulder after White left his chair on the city’s Board of Supervisors. White had expected Moscone to reappoint him, but Milk campaigned publicly for him to be denied a seat. At the time, Dianne Feinstein was a relative unknown and this incident helped her campaign to become San Francisco’s first female mayor some legs.

White shot mayor Moscone in a private meeting in Moscone’s office. Feinstein witnessed him leave and called out to him, to which his response was “I have something to do first.” He found Milk near White’s old office and asked the man to step inside for a private meeting. Not knowing what was in store for him, Milk agreed.

White shot Milk five times, the fourth being the killing shot.

His defense at trial was a little absurd, and led to the coining of the derisive phrase “Twinkie Defense.” Essentially, White’s attorney’s argued that his high-sugar diet had put White into a state of depression. If that sounds too crazy to hold up in court, that’s because it is. Since then, legal strategies that have this kind of strange approach have been labeled “Twinkie” defense strategies. Although, it’s worth noting that the Twinkie itself was not legally responsible for White’s outbursts, a fact that his defense team acknowledged.


About the Author: Phin Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Phin Upham website or Facebook page.