February 21, 2019 at 1:38 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Trial of two men charged in 2016 DC trans murder nearing completion
Deeniquia Dodds, gay news, Washington Blade
Deeniquia ‘Dee Dee’ Dodds was killed on July 4, 2016. (Photo courtesy Facebook)

Prosecutors presented autopsy photos on Tuesday in D.C. Superior Court of the gunshot wound to neck that took the life of D.C. transgender woman Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds, 22, in a July 4, 2016, shooting incident during the final week of the trial of two men charged with her murder.

The trial, which began over three weeks ago, has included testimony from multiple witnesses that prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office say have provided convincing evidence that defendants Monte Tyree Johnson, 23, and Jolonta Little, 28, were responsible for Dodds’ murder as part of an armed robbery.

The lead prosecutors in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ahmed Baset and Thomas Saunders, told the jury in opening arguments and subsequent questioning of witnesses that the evidence would show that Johnson, Little, and two other men targeted at least eight trans women, including Dodds, for robbery in the early morning hours of July 4, 2016, in different locations.

Court records show that shortly after Little was arrested on Sept. 9, 2016, and after Johnson was arrested on Feb. 9, 2017, the two were charged with first degree murder while armed and 15 additional charges, including  “conspiracy bias related (hate) crime,” armed robbery, possession of a firearm during a crime of violence and assault to commit robbery while armed.

The prosecutors said evidence that the men were targeting trans women for the robberies prompted prosecutors to classify the attack against Dodds as a hate crime, which could lead to an enhanced sentence if Johnson and Little are convicted.

The other two men – Shareem Hall, 25, and his younger brother, Cyheme Hall, 23, – were also charged with first degree murder while armed in connection with Dodds’ death.

But according to the Washington Post, prosecutors disclosed at the start of the trial that the Hall brothers were cooperating with police and prosecutors and would be testifying at the trial as government witnesses. The Post reported that the two reached a plea bargain deal with prosecutors in which they would plead guilty to a lesser charge of second degree murder.

In dramatic testimony earlier this month Cyheme Hall told the jury he and Johnson jumped out of a car carrying guns and rushed to where Dodds was standing along a street in Northeast D.C. near where she lived and demanded her money, according to an account by the Post.

But unlike their holdups of the other trans women that night, Dodds fought back, Hall testified. He told the jury that Johnson pointed his gun to her face and that Dodds grabbed the barrel of the gun with both hands, the Post reported.

Hall testified that Johnson fired his gun after which the two men took Dodd’s purse and cellphone as she was bleeding while sprawled on the sidewalk, the Post reported, adding that Hall testified that the plan was never to kill anyone.

“The plan was just to rob a person,” the Post quoted Hall as telling the jury. “I was in shock. He shot a person for nothing.”

Johnson’s attorney, Kevin Irving, and Little’s attorney, Brandi Harden, have argued that their clients are innocent of the murder and the Hall brothers are lying to deflect the blame from them to Little and Johnson.

During the trial on Tuesday before the jury entered the courtroom Harden raised strong objections to the hate crime designation of the murder charge against her client, saying the designation would be unfairly prejudicial in the eyes of jurors. She said she would argue that the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that “hate” was involved in her client’s involvement in a robbery case.

She has argued that Little was driving the car in which the men who allegedly were committing robberies used but claimed he was unaware that the others were committing robberies when they got out of the car.

Also on Tuesday Saunders and Baset presented their final two witnesses. Zachary McMenanin, who was identified as an investigative analyst, testified on the methods police and investigators used to track the cell phone calls and cell phone locations of the four defendants on the day Dodds was shot.

Charging documents filed by homicide detectives at the time Johnson and Little were arrested show that investigators used GPS tracking from cell phone signals to place the defendants at the locations where the robberies and the murder took place.

The other government witness testifying on Tuesday was Dr. John Stash, an assistant medical examiner for the state of Maryland, who said he performed the autopsy on Dodds after her death on July 13, 2016, nine days after she was shot.

Although Dodds lived in D.C. she was taken to Prince George’s County Medical Center for emergency care at the time of the shooting.

In response to questions by Baset, Stash described in detail the location of the bullet lodged in Dodds’ neck and how it severed a blood vessel to her brain that ultimately resulted in her death.

It was during Stash’s testimony that Baset brought out graphic photos of Dodds’ body lying on the autopsy table so that Stash could point to the location of the gunshot wound and describe how it resulted in Dodd’s death. He said the death was officially listed as being caused by complications from a gunshot wound to the neck.

The trial is expected to end in the coming days.

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

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