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Roommate charged in killing of gay advocate found in Florida landfill

Jorge Diaz-Johnston, the brother of former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, was integral in legalizing same-sex marriage in Miami-Dade County.
Don Johnston, Jorge Diaz
Don Johnston and Jorge Diaz wait to speak to the media and supporters after the court hearing on gay marriage in Miami on July 2, 2014.J Pat Carter / AP file

The roommate of a Florida gay rights advocate whose body was found in a Florida landfill in January has been charged with murder.

Steven Yinger strangled Jorge Diaz-Johnston at his Tallahassee home and dumped his body, which was later found in a trash pile at a landfill in Baker, Florida, about 60 miles east of the Alabama border, according to an indictment issued by a circuit court in Leon County.

Yinger faces charges of first-degree murder, tampering with evidence and grand theft, according to the five-count indictment. After discarding Diaz-Johnston's body, Yinger allegedly used his BMW, iPhone and cash. The 36-year-old suspect has an extensive criminal history dating back to 2004, which includes prison sentences for theft and cocaine distribution, according to public records. He's currently being held at Leon County Jail without bail.

A lawyer representing Yinger did not immediately respond to NBC News' request for comment.

When Diaz-Johnston’s body was found, he and his husband, Don Diaz-Johnston, had been separated and living apart, Don Diaz-Johnston told NBC Miami.

“It was shocking and horrifying to find ... I still haven’t come to terms with the fact that my life has been completely altered, and this turned everything upside down and ended all of our hopes and plans,” Don Diaz-Johnston said after last week's indictment. “To now be a part of this and have our marriage end this way is something I just never saw coming and still frankly can’t accept.”

Diaz-Johnston's death sent shockwaves through the LGBTQ community when his body was found.

The 54-year-old victim, who is the brother of former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, and his husband were integral in legalizing same-sex marriage in Florida. In 2014, the two men, along with five other same-sex couples, sued the Miami-Dade County clerk’s office after they were barred from getting married.

“For us, it’s not just only a question of love and wanting to express our love and have the benefits that everyone else has in the state, but it’s an issue of equality, and it’s a civil rights issue,” Jorge Diaz-Johnston told NBC Miami at the time.

A Miami-Dade circuit court judge ruled in the couples’ favor, and same-sex marriages were performed in the county starting January 2015, five months before the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

“He was a powerful voice. He was a sensitive, thoughtful voice,” Elizabeth Schwartz, who represented Diaz-Johnston and the five other couples, told NBC Miami after Diaz-Johnston's body was found. "It’s no easy thing to be a plaintiff in such a high profile case like that. You put your life on trial. He was game. He really helped change hearts and minds and we’re eternally grateful."

Shortly after winning their case, Jorge and Don Diaz-Johnston married in March 2015, according to public records.

“I still can’t believe he’s gone. I’m still struggling with the reality of that. It’s been tragic,” Don Diaz-Johnston said after charges were filed against Yinger.

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