September 30, 2011 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Victim, activists upset over plea bargain in transgender shooting case

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.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

12 Comments
  • If you’re gay, transgender or otherwise, it’s not a “lifestyle”–it’s a LIFE. You never hear heterosexuals referred to as “living a heterosexual lifestyle.” That’s just more nonsense from conservatives to make people believe gays choose to live their lives as gay. Then when they get people to think our lives are a choice, they introduce laws to take away our rights.

  • If you read more closely, they’re referring to the woman being a prostitute. The attacker had paid the woman for sex in the past…

    • so??? does that make it ok to shoot someone? attempted murder is it not? had the woman died would they have even bothered with the case? she is a real person and she deserves real justice.

  • OUR BIT TO TAKE A BITE OUT OF CRIME…

    I’m not a lawyer, but IMO, I think these factors and points are generally true…

    1) Plea bargains are a fact of life in nearly every jurisdiction in this country. If they have to do so, then we should give prosecutors more “chips” with which to bargain.

    2) In criminal cases, it only takes one person (a transphobe/ homophobe, e.g.) to hang a jury, or to hold out for a complete acquittal. That isn’t to say that prosecutors shouldn’t be challenged, but rather that it’s important to see all sides of the problem.

    3) What victims and/or witnesses KNOW, first hand, may be very different than what prosecutors can PROVE with admissible evidence in a court of law.

    Rather that get hung up on the variables of one particular case, LGBT citizens, LGBT activists, DC Councilmembers and Mayor Gray should all focus on the additional tools MPD and USAO-DC could use to better combat the rise in anti-LGBT hate crimes.

    Chief Lanier has repeatedly pointed out over the years that providing MPD and prosecutors with full toolboxes of crime fighting options is key. A few weeks ago, in an exchange of emails I had with Chief Lanier, she noted that updating DC hate crimes law (Bias-Related Crimes Act) would help.

    We both agreed that *STALKING* (DC Criminal Code 22-3133) –and–*THREATS* (DC Criminal Code 22-407, 22-1810) should be added to the list of “DESIGNATED ACTS” in DC’s Bias-Related Crimes Act.

    Currently, because these crimes were never listed as *designated acts*, neither *Stalking* nor *Threats* can be charged as hate crimes, no matter how much hate (bias) can be proven.

    So people, please– call your council members (both ward and at-large) and Jeff Richardson’s Office of GLBT Affairs (Phone: 202-727-9493) and ask to have STALKING and THREATS added to DC’s HATE CRIMES LAW (“Bias-Related Crimes Act”).

  • How could the prosecution prove that the perp intended to kill the person? They couldn’t. Therefore, the plea deal seems reasonable and just to me. Which brings me back to the issue of the “lifestyle choices” of transgendered women. Bad choices = bad consequences/results. Abandon the sex trade and take a job somewhere else. I bet the crimes would then be reduced substantially.

  • Women generally turn to prostitution out of desparation. For transpeople getting and keeping a job is more difficult because of extreem levels of discrimination.
    This woman said no to sex. That is every woman’s right. Why should a man be allowed to almost kill her for it and get 5 years. This is just another example of the injustice transwoman face.

  • Juries usually convict based on community standards rather than the strict letter of the law. Given the community bigotry against the “T” world, and MORE IMPORTANTLY, prostitutes, they were probably correct in copping a plea — otherwise Willard would PROBABLY be exonerated — regardless what you think the law is. The plea ensures that the perp serves time (and here, only the maximum is reduced compared to Assualt with Intent)

  • I also read into this article that the “lifestyle” was that of prostitution.

  • um, yes and accordingly from accounts that I have been reading, it appears that despite the overwhelming evidence of hate crimes against trans women in DC, that the police are still reluctant to call these murders hate crimes. Ouch, this smells very stinky here. what is this reluctance, and what are they trying to hide by this? what’s the point of mis- identifying the obvious intent of these crimes?

  • The reason we have MAJOR hate crimes (Homicides, Attempted Homicide, Aggravated Assaults) is that MPD (and USAO) is not serious about prosecuting SMALLER hate crimes (Simple Assaults, Stalking, Threats).

    MPD and USAO is sending a terrible message to hate crimes perpetrators:
    “If you simply shove, stalk or threaten LGBT people, don’t worry too much about police enforcement.”

    And it is lazy police work, too. It almost appears that MPD/USAO would rather wait until hate crimes reach the homicide level before they take any action to prevent small hate crime from becoming major hate crimes.

    *Stalking* and felony *Threats* can’t even be charged as hate crimes under our current hate crimes law. The DC Council should change that.

  • I agree with Shary 100 percent. Sometimes it is best to take the plea bargain, which will get this thug off the streets for awhile. If it had gone to trial the victim would have had embarassing facts about her life put out in public that would have swayed the jury. Sure, gays have more rights now but there is still severe prejudiced against transgender people. With all these recent reported murders of transgender people I am glad that 1) this person lived to tell the tell and 2) that Darryl Willard is going to serve time for five to 10 years. Now maybe he will know what it is like to become a victim when some inmate makes him his bitch.

  • stereotypes know that if you are gay – there will be less charges for the crime.

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