NY Man Gets 25 Years for Transgender Slaying

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday August 18, 2009

The sentencing of convicted killer Dwight DeLee, of upstate New York, saw DeLee receive the maximum legal punishment in the hate crime slaying of a transgender victim.

DeLee was found guilty in July for the shooting death of Lateisha Green, 22, an Aug. 18 article at the Web site for ABC affiliate WEAR Channel 3 said.

Though DeLee, 20, was found guilt of a hate crime in the case, he was judged not to have intended to commit murder. For that reason, he was found guilty of manslaughter.

Green, born male, had lived as a woman for the last six years of her life.

The article noted that DeLee is only the second offender to be sentenced for a bias crime in the killing of a transgender person.

Such killings, however, are not so very rare in themselves. Transgender people can be targeted out of the same hatred and bias as gays and lesbians, or because a potential sex partner discovers that what appears to be a woman is in actuality a man. That discovery can apparently trigger such fury that murder is the result.

In May, a Colorado man, Allen Andrade, found out that an 18-year-old transwoman, Angie Zapata, was biologically male; Andrade picked up a fire extinguisher and proceeded to beat Zapata to death.

Andrade received a steep sentence, but it was less because of the hate crime he had committed than due to the determination that he was a habitual offender, reported the Bay Area Reporter in a story carried by EDGE last May 9.

Andrade was, however, charged and convicted of bias crime.

Transgendered people can face discrimination not jut from lawbreakers, but also from those charged with keeping the peace: a videotape bolstered the case of a 43-year-old transwoman named Duanna Johnson, who was beaten by police in Memphis, Tennessee, after she was arrested on a charge of prostitution.

The beating led to the firing of two police officers, and helped spark a movement to counter police brutality in that city.

Just months later, last November 9, Johnson was shot and killed on a street in North Memphis.

The Human Rights Campaign issued a statement about the sentencing of DeLee, who shot Green as she sat in a car with her brother outside a house in Syracuse as a party was taking place.

Commenting on the maximum 25-year sentence that was handed down by Judge William Walsh, the HRC's president, Joe Solmonese, said, "By ensuring the maximum sentence, this case sends a message in return: hate will not be tolerated, and we will fight it wherever it appears until all are safe to live their lives authentically and without fear."

Solmonese spoke to the terroristic nature of bias crimes, noting, "Crimes such as this, motivated by prejudice and hate, are meant to send a message to transgender people that their very existence is not tolerated."

Solmonese also noted that federal protections for GLBT Americans have yet to be adopted, despite official statistics that show anti-GLBT bias-driven violence is on the rise.

"As some in Congress question the prevalence of violent hate crimes against the LGBT community, this case provides another reminder of the transgender community's desperate need for protection from hate violence and the need for action on a federal hate crimes bill," Solmonese said.

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.