A D.C. Public Defender Service attorney, who is credited with persuading a judge in 2013 to hand down a lighter than expected sentence for an off-duty police officer charged with firing his gun into a car occupied by three transgender women, is currently representing a man charged in the July 4 shooting death of D.C. transgender woman Deeniquia Dodds.
Court records show that attorney David Knight is representing District Heights, Md., resident Shareem Hall, 22, who is charged with first-degree murder while armed for the fatal shooting of Dodds, also 22, on a Northeast D.C. street close to where she lived.
Hall and co-defendant Jolonta Little, 26, who is charged with the same murder offense in the Dodds case, were arrested in September. According to police charging documents, Hall and Little intended to rob Dodds, who was among several trans women the two targeted for armed robbery in the early morning hours of July 4.
Court observers say they are puzzled over a decision by Superior Court Judge Milton Lee to postpone Hall’s preliminary hearing until May 19, 2017 in response to an apparent joint request by defense attorney Knight and prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Little’s preliminary hearing has been postponed until Feb. 17.
Attorneys familiar with criminal law have said a postponement or a waiving by the defense of a preliminary hearing is sometimes based on an offer by prosecutors of a plea bargain deal. Preliminary hearings are considered beneficial to the defense because prosecutors are required to show probable cause exists to bring a case to trial rather than have it dismissed for lack of sufficient evidence.
William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said his office would have no comment on whether a plea offer has been made. Knight did not respond to a Washington Blade call seeking comment on the case.
Transgender activists expressed shock and outrage in January 2013 when a D.C. Superior Court judge sentenced District Police Officer Kenneth Furr, 48, to three years of supervised probation and a $150 fine after a jury convicted him of assault with a dangerous weapon and solicitation for prostitution in connection with the transgender shooting incident.
Judge Russell Canan sentenced Furr to five years in prison but suspended all but 14 months of the prison term and credited Furr with the 14 months he already served between the time of his arrest and the conclusion of his trial. The action meant that Furr would not have to serve any additional jail time unless he violates the terms of his probation.
Prosecutors had called on the judge to sentence Furr to the maximum sentence of five years in jail for the assault with a dangerous weapon conviction. Based on what observers said was a strong defense case by Knight, the jury found Furr not guilty of a more serious charge of assault with intent to kill while armed, which was linked to his firing his gun at the occupied car.
“Officer Furr’s defense team actively sought to portray the victims as somehow deserving of this violence, and apparently they succeeded,” said D.C. Trans Coalition official Jason Terry at the time of the sentencing. “This result is the product of a legal system that constantly devalues trans lives, particularly trans people of color,” Terry said.
During Furr’s trial, witnesses testified that Furr used his service revolver to fire at least five rounds through the front windshield of a car where three trans women and two male friends were sitting, resulting in non-life threatening gunshot wounds for at least two people in the car. Prosecutors said all five easily could have been killed.
Court observers said Knight, a seasoned defense attorney, made a persuasive argument with the judge and jury that Furr fired the shots in self-defense after the trans women and their male friends chased after him twice in their car. Prosecutors pointed to testimony from witnesses that the chase took place after Furr solicited one of the trans women for sex for money on a street where trans sex workers congregate and began stalking the woman after she refused his offer.
Furr followed the woman to a nearby CVS store where one of her male friends asked Furr to leave the woman alone, witnesses said. This prompted Furr to pull out his service revolver and point it at the male friend when the group walked out of the store. Furr then drove away in his car and returned to the street where he first met the trans woman and began soliciting other trans women for sex, according to testimony at the trial.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Worm, the lead prosecutor, acknowledged that the trans women and their male friends could have deescalated the confrontation by not following Furr. But she also argued that the people who followed Furr were unarmed and he could have called D.C. police for help rather than fire his gun into a car occupied by the five victims.