Iowa teen Kedarie Johnson was shot death in 2016. Police found a plastic bag in his throat and his body doused with bleach. Now, debates about the nature of the brutal killing have created a new set of considerations about hate crimes — how will courts deal with emerging gender identities that have no legal precedents with regards to hate crimes?
Jorge Sanders-Galvez has been charged with first-degree murder pertaining to Johnson's death, according to the New York Times.
According to Kedarie's mother, Katrina Johnson, the popular teenager preferred male pronouns but occaisionally went by "she" and somtimes used the name Kandicee. Katrina described Kedarie's identity as "gender fluid." He often presented in traditionally feminine attire and dated both boys and girls, leading to speculations about the motivation of the crime.
Prosecutors during the crime intimated that Sanders-Galvez had solicited Kedarie for sex, thinking he was a woman, and became enraged when discovering he was not.
One of the defense lawyers stated that Sanders-Galvez “did not do it. That’s it.”
The trial arrives amidst controversies around Attorney Jeff Sessions' declaration that the Justice Department no longer considers transgender people to be protected from workplace discrimination. (Sessions has also worked against Obama-era mandates that encouraged schools to allow bathrooms that cohere with their gender identity.) Sessions has confusingly personally initiated federal involvement in the trial. Local officials say that even as the state trial progresses, a federal grand jury is simultaneously being organized to investigate the killing as a possible hate crime.
Lambda Legal official Sharon McGowan described Sessions' involvement in the situation as akin to “handing out gasoline and matches, and then looking for a pat on the back when he prosecutes someone for committing arson.”
At the state level, Sanders-Galvez was not tried for a hate crime because gender identity is not covered in the state's statutes pertaining to hate crimes. Sanders-Galvez potentially faces life in prison for first-degree murder.
“Look, I think it was a hate crime and it needs to be said as such,” said Shaunda Campbell, a former counselor at Kedarie's school. “Here was a child — a 16-year-old child — trying to make his way in the world. You cannot convince me that he was not killed because of how he was presenting himself."
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