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Updates in Betts, Wone murder cases

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Family of slain gay principal pushes hate crime prosecution

Lawyers representing the family of murdered D.C. middle school principal Brian Betts, who was gay, met with officials at the U.S. Department of Justice on Dec. 7 to reiterate an earlier request that the department investigate whether the murder should be declared a federal hate crime.

Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred, who has represented celebrities in high-profile cases, said after the meeting that she and co-counsel Rene Sandler asked members of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division to determine whether at least one of the four teenagers charged in the murder violated the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009.

Allred noted that defendant Alante Saunders, 19, pled guilty to first-degree felony murder for shooting Betts to death and has been sentenced to 40 years in jail. But she said his use of a gay sex chat line to meet Betts and target him for a robbery could be grounds for initiating a hate crime prosecution.

“It is clear to us that a person who participates in a male-to-male sex-chat line would be perceived as gay and may be thought to be an especially vulnerable target for a criminal,” Allred said.

Sandler said the Justice Department officials promised to review the case and make a determination in the near future on whether to open a hate crime investigation in the Betts murder case. She said the meeting lasted more than an hour.

Betts was found murdered in his Silver Spring, Md., house in April. In addition to Saunders, two other youths implicated in Betts’ murder pled guilty to lesser charges. A fourth youth is scheduled to stand trial but is said to be considering accepting a plea bargain offer from prosecutors.

The chief prosecutor in the case has said the evidence doesn’t support a hate crime prosecution.

Gag order request denied in Wone case

The judge presiding over a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit filed against three gay men for the 2006 murder of local attorney Robert Wone denied the men’s request that all lawyers in the case be barred from speaking to the media.

Lawyers representing Joseph Price, Victor Zaborsky and Dylan Ward argued that remarks made to the press by at least one of the attorneys representing Kathy Wone, wife of the slain attorney, were highly prejudicial and would make it difficult to obtain an impartial jury in the case.

They were referring to a comment by attorney Patrick Regan outside the courtroom earlier this year related to the defendants’ stated plan to invoke the Fifth Amendment to allow them to refuse to answer nearly all questions at their trial next spring.

Regan told members of the media that, “defendants don’t assert their fifth amendment rights if they are not guilty of something.”

The defendants are expected to argue that answering questions in the civil trial or during pre-trial depositions could incriminate them in a possible future criminal prosecution.

The three were found not guilty on charges of conspiracy and evidence tampering in connection with the Wone murder in a criminal trial earlier this year. No one has been charged with the murder.

In addition to denying the defendants’ gag order request, Judge Brook Hedge also denied a defense motion to dismiss the entire case.

Hedge denied a third motion by the defense requesting that the defendants’ lawyers rather than the defendants themselves be allowed to recite the Fifth Amendment as grounds for not answering a question each time the plaintiff’s lawyers fire questions at the defendants.

Under this ruling, Price, Zaborsky and Ward must state for themselves—while on the witness stand or in pre-trial depositions—that they are invoking their Fifth Amendment right not to answer a question.

Robert Wone was found stabbed to death in a guest bedroom in the Dupont Circle area home of the three men in August 2006. The men have said an unidentified intruder killed Wone after entering the house through a rear door. Police and prosecutors disputed this claim, saying evidence showed that no one entered the home at the time of the murder and that the three men know who the murderer is but are covering up for that person.

A D.C. Superior Court judge, who presided over the non-jury criminal trial, ruled that the government did not provide sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the three men committed the offenses with which they were charged—obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and evidence tampering.

Legal experts have said civil cases require a lower threshold of proof, making it possible that the three gay defendants could be found responsible for Robert Wone’s death from a civil standpoint. A jury must decide the amount of monetary damages the men would be responsible for if found guilty.

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Maryland

Protests interrupt Moms for Liberty meeting about removing books in Howard County schools

Guest speaker led book-removal campaign in Carroll County

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Gabriella Monroe holds a poster that says 'Ban Bigotry Not Books' outside Howard County’s Central Branch library in Columbia on Feb. 26, 2024 (Photo by Sam Mallon for the Baltimore Banner)

BY KRISTEN GRIFFITH | When a Howard County chapter of Moms for Liberty wanted to learn how to remove books from schools, they were met with a swarm of protesters sporting rainbow colors and signs looking to send the message that such actions are not welcome in their district.

The conservative parents’ group met Monday night at Howard’s Central Branch library in Columbia to brainstorm how they could get books they deemed inappropriate out of their children’s school libraries. Their guest speaker for the evening was Jessica Garland, who led a successful book-removal campaign in Carroll County. The Howard chapter wanted the playbook.

The rest of this article can be read on the Baltimore Banner’s website.

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Rehoboth Beach

Former CAMP Rehoboth official pleads guilty to felony theft

Salvatore Seeley faces possible jail time, agrees to reimburse $176,000

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Salvatore “Sal” Seeley, who served as an official at the Rehoboth Beach, Del., CAMP Rehoboth LGBTQ community center for 20 years, has pleaded guilty to a felony charge of Theft In Excess of $50,000 for allegedly embezzling  funds from the organization for at least a two-and-a-half-year period, according to a Sussex County, Del., Superior Court indictment and a spokesperson for the Delaware Office of the Attorney General.

The spokesperson, Mat Marshall, sent the Blade a copy of the indictment, which he said was handed down against Seeley on Feb. 27 and which provides the only specific court information that the Washington Blade could immediately obtain.

“Salvatore C. Seeley, between the 27th day of February 2019 and the 7th day of September 2021, in the County of Sussex, State of Delaware, did take property belonging to Camp Rehoboth, Inc., consisting of United States currency and other miscellaneous property valued at more than $50,000, intending to appropriate same,” the indictment states.

“I can further confirm that the Defendant entered a guilty plea to one count of Theft in Excess of $50,000,” spokesperson Marshall told the Blade in an email message. “Mr. Seeley also agrees to make restitution of $176,199.78 to CAMP Rehoboth,” Marshall said. “He will be sentenced on April 5 and does face the possibility of prison time.”

Marshall declined to provide additional information on the findings of the law enforcement investigation into Seeley’s alleged theft. The restitution figure of $176,199.79 suggests investigators believe Seeley embezzled at least that amount from CAMP Rehoboth during the time he worked for the organization.

Seeley couldn’t immediately be reached for comment

CAMP Rehoboth describes itself as a nonprofit LGBTQ community service organization and the largest organization of its type “serving the needs of LGBTQ+ people in Rehoboth, greater Sussex County, and throughout the state of Delaware.” The statement adds that the organization “is dedicated to creating a positive environment inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities in Rehoboth and its related communities.”

Kim Leisey, who began her job as executive director of CAMP Rehoboth in July of 2023, said it was her understanding that officials with the organization discovered funds were missing and opened an investigation in September of 2021, a short time before Seeley left the organization. Leisey said that at the time of his departure, Seeley served as CAMP Rehoboth’s director of health and wellness programs. 

At that time, former D.C. Center for the LGBT Community director David Mariner was serving as CAMP Rehoboth’s executive director and reportedly took steps to open an investigation into missing funds. Wesley Combs, CAMP Rehoboth’s current board president, said Seeley resigned from his job around that time in 2021.

“I know that I took this job knowing there was a concern and a problem and an investigation,” Leisey told the Blade. “And I also know that the board of CAMP Rehoboth has done everything it needs to do to ensure that we were compliant, cooperative and that things are going really well here at CAMP Rehoboth.”

Leisey said CAMP Rehoboth currently has a staff of six full-time employees and several contract employees. She said the organization has a current annual budget of $1.4 million.

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District of Columbia

Capital Pride announces 2024 Pride theme

‘Totally radical’ a nod to 80s and 90s

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Capital Pride Alliance Executive Director Ryan Bos, on left, announces this year's Pride theme at the Pride Reveal party on Thursday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Capital Pride Alliance on Thursday announced this year’s Pride theme is “totally radical.”

The organization made the announcement at Penn Social in Downtown D.C.

“Capital Pride’s 2024 theme celebrates the courageous spirit and unwavering strength and resilience that defined the LGBTQ+ community during the transformative decades of the 1980s and ‘90s,” said Capital Pride Alliance Executive Director Ryan Bos. “It’s about embracing our authenticity, pushing boundaries and advocating for a world where everyone can live their truth without fear or discrimination.”

Capital Pride on Thursday announced this year’s Pride parade, which will take place on June 8, will begin at 14th and T Streets, N.W., and end at Pennsylvania Avenue and 9th Street, N.W.

The Capital Pride Block Party and Family Area will once again take place on 17th Street in Dupont Circle. A Tea Dance will also take place on Constitution Avenue, N.W., near the end of the parade. 

The Capital Pride Festival and Concert will take place on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., on June 9.

Capital Pride has also launched a campaign to raise $1.5 million for a new D.C. LGBTQ community center. 

WorldPride will take place in D.C. in 2025. The event will coincide with the 50th anniversary of Pride events in the nation’s capital.

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