A transgender woman says she disagrees with a decision by the United States Attorney’s office to lower the charge against a man arrested for shooting her in the neck on Sept. 12 while she sat in her car parked in Southeast Washington.
District resident Darryl Willard, 20, pleaded guilty on Thursday in D.C. Superior Court to a charge of aggravated assault while armed in connection with the shooting. His plea came after prosecutors agreed to drop a more serious charge of assault with intent to kill while armed.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Ann O’Reagan Keary scheduled a sentencing hearing for Willard Dec. 6.
The assault with intent to kill charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in jail and a possible maximum jail term of 20 years. The aggravated assault charge, to which Willard pleaded guilty, carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison and a possible maximum sentence of 10 years in jail.
“I told them I was willing to go to a trial and testify” if prosecutors went with the more serious charge, said the victim, who spoke on condition that her name was withheld.
She said prosecutors informed her of their decision to lower the charge in exchange for Willard’s guilty plea last week shortly after she was released from the hospital and after the decision was reached.
“They said that going to trial with a jury could be a problem because they [the defense] would bring up my lifestyle,” the woman said.
Local transgender activists Earline Budd and Jeri Hughes said they, too, disagree with the lowering of the charge. Both said they were troubled that the U.S. Attorney’s office apparently didn’t consult the victim in advance of its plea bargain decision and appears to have presented her with a fait accompli on the matter.
“How about if a U.S. Attorney gets shot in the neck?” said Hughes. “Let’s see if someone gets just five years for that. That’s crazy. It’s an outrage.”
Budd, an official with the local group Transgender Health Empowerment, arranged for the woman to speak with the Blade
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office has said the office never comments on why it chooses to offer plea bargain agreements that lower charges in specific cases.
In discussing its general policy on plea bargain decisions, the U.S. Attorney’s office in the past has said it considers factors such as whether a jury would be likely to convict someone on a more serious charge.
Former Interim U.S. Attorney for D.C. Channing Phillips told the Blade in past interviews, at the time he served as spokesperson for the office, that the outcome of jury trials is always uncertain. He said jury trials sometimes result in an acquittal of a defendant that police and prosecutors strongly believe is guilty.
Arranging for a guilty plea by lowering the charge usually assures that a person charged with a serious crime will serve some time in prison and that justice will be served for the victim, Phillips has said.
In the case of the transgender woman shot in the neck on Sept. 12, a police arrest affidavit says the victim and Willard had known each other for more than a year and that Willard allegedly had paid the woman for sex in the past.
It says the woman picked up Willard in her car at 22nd and Savannah streets, S.E., and the two drove around the area. It says Willard asked the woman to perform oral sex on him and she refused. When she pulled over to let Willard out of the car, he pulled out a gun and demanded she turn over her money, the affidavit says.
According to the affidavit, the woman refused to hand over her money, prompting Willard to shoot her at close range in the neck.
“The shot hit her in the right side of her neck, punctured both of her lungs, and lodged near her heart, where it remains,” says a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s office on Tuesday. “The defendant turned himself in to police the following day and has been in custody ever since,” the statement says.