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Jury deadlocked in trans murder case

Judge sends jurors back for further deliberations

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Deeniquia Dodds, gay news, Washington Blade
Deeniquia ‘Dee Dee’ Dodds was shot to death in 2016. (Photo via Facebook)

A D.C. Superior Court jury on Wednesday announced it was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on whether two men were guilty or innocent of first-degree murder for the July 4, 2016 shooting death of transgender woman Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds on a Northeast D.C. street.

But the jury disclosed through its foreperson that it found defendant Monte Johnson, 23, not guilty on seven of 15 other charges filed against him and found defendant Jolonta Little, 28, not guilty on five of the same 15 additional charges against him, including the charge of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence.

The jury reached just one guilty verdict, said the foreperson. Little was found guilty of a single count of carrying a pistol without a license outside of a home or business.

Judge Milton C. Lee then instructed the jury to return to the jury room to continue their deliberations and to make an earnest effort to reach verdicts on the remaining charges for which they were deadlocked.

The partial verdicts by the jury came at the conclusion of a month-long trial in which prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office argued that Little, Johnson and two other men targeted as many as seven transgender women for armed robberies along streets where female trans sex workers congregate on the night Dodds was shot.

The prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas Saunders and Ahmed Baset, told the jury Dodds was among the trans women targeted by the men in the early morning hours of July 4, 2016. The prosecutors said defendant Johnson fatally shot Dodds in the neck after she fought back when Johnson and another man implicated in the murder attempted to rob her at gunpoint.

The other man that allegedly targeted Dodds, Cyheme Hall, 23, and his brother, Shareem Hall, 25, had been charged along with Little and Johnson with first-degree murder while armed in connection with the Dodds murder. But prosecutors informed the jury at the start of the trial that the Hall brothers agreed to become cooperating witnesses for the government after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in the Dodds case.

In dramatic testimony at the trial, Cyheme Hall told the jury it was Johnson who shot Dodds in the neck at point blank range after she grabbed the barrel of his handgun as Johnson and Hall attempted to rob her on Division Ave., N.E. near where she lived. Hall testified that the plan among the men to commit robberies did not include the intent to kill anyone.

Although prosecutors presented numerous other witnesses who they said corroborated testimony by the Hall brothers, defense attorney Kevin Irving, who represents Johnson, and Brandi Harden, who represents Little, told the jury the Hall brothers were habitual liars with no credibility and anything they said in their testimony should be discounted.

The two defense attorneys pointed to what they said were inconsistencies in the Hall brothers’ testimony and noted that the Halls’ motives were aimed strictly at telling prosecutors what the prosecutors wanted to hear so they could get off with a lighter sentence.

The defense attorneys also argued repeatedly that jurors were required by law to find the defendants not guilty if they had a reasonable doubt about Johnson and Little’s guilt in any aspect of the complex circumstances surrounding the murder.

Prosecutor Saunders reminded the jury in his rebuttal argument last week that “solid” corroborating evidence linking Johnson and Little to the murder and a string of armed robberies of other trans women that took place on the night of the murder.

Among the key corroborating evidence, Saunders pointed out, was a GPS ankle bracelet that Little wore on the night of the murder stemming from a previous conviction and probation he received in an unrelated criminal case. The tracking of Little’s whereabouts that night by GPS experts placed him at the scene of three robberies Little and Johnson were charged with committing, including the scene where Dodds was shot, at the exact time those incidents occurred.

Saunders noted that prosecutors and police also tracked the cell phone conversations between Little and Johnson and the Hall brothers that they say placed them at the scene of the robberies and shooting.

In addition, Saunders pointed to recorded phone conversations played before the jury that the government obtained of Johnson talking with his girlfriend by phone while in jail awaiting trial for the Dodds murder in which prosecutors say he admitted committing the murder.

During Wednesday morning’s court session, the jury announced it found Little not guilty on seven separate counts of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence. The jury found him guilty of a single count of carrying a pistol without a license outside of a home or business.

The jury similarly found Johnson not guilty on five counts of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence. It did not find Johnson guilty of any charges as of Wednesday morning.

Among the charges against both men for which the jury reported it was deadlocked included felony murder while armed, conspiracy, assault with a dangerous weapon, robbery while armed, and additional counts of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence.

If the jury remains deadlocked on the charges it announced Wednesday morning it would be up to Judge Lee to decide whether to approve a possible request by prosecutors for a new trial or an expected motion by defense attorneys to dismiss the case.

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Howard County activists and allies hit back at censorship, hate

More than 100 people attended ‘We ARE the People’ rally

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(Photo by Bob Ford)

A diverse crowd of 100 to 200 folks gathered at the Columbia Lakefront on Saturday to attend a rally to push back against censorship in the county’s public schools as well as homophobia and transphobia emanating from a group of conservative parents.

The rally called “We ARE the People” was organized in response to the comments and actions by members of a Maryland-based conservative group “We the People 2” that among other things are anti-masks, anti-vaccinations and are opposed to teaching racial history in the schools. They also oppose two books that are in Howard County Public Schools library shelves: “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy.”

Speakers at a We the People 2 rally last month at an Elkridge warehouse condemned the books, which contain LGBTQ characters, as sexually explicit. The group later filed police reports against the Board of Education alleging the books constitute pornography with “graphic sexual content and materials being used and disseminated in public schools,” according to the group’s press release.  A flier announcing this action used the loaded terminology, “We must not allow our children to be abused and victimized.”

Among the speakers at the Elkridge rally was Republican Gordana Schifanelli who is running for lieutenant governor on the ticket with Daniel Cox. Another speaker, George Johnson, a teacher from Baltimore City, was heard on a video of the event saying, “We’re doing God’s work because Marxism, homosexuality and transgenderism is the devil.”

In response, the pro-LGBTQ rally in Columbia announced the following:

We are taking a stance against hate in the community as we raise our voices in support of equity in our schools. Attacks on teachers and school staff have prompted us to stand united and drown out the noise.

In addition, We ARE the People states:

We stand for LGBTQ+ students and educational professionals

Teaching accurate history to our students

Supporting equitable practices in our schools

Providing students with relevant LGBTQ+ media through their school libraries

The two-hour rally, which was attended by several county council members, featured speakers representing a wide swath of community, educational, religious and political organizations. They included: Community Allies of Rainbow Youth (CARY), Black Lives Activists of Columbia (BLAC), Absolutely Dragulous, Howard County Schools, PFLAG-Columbia/Howard County, IndivisibleHoCoMd, Columbia Democratic Club, Howard Progressive Project, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia (UUCC), HoCo Pride, Progressive Democrats of Howard County, and the Columbia United Christian Church.

Many of the speakers denounced the censorship of materials that are needed by many LGBTQ students. Genderqueer and non-binary students, they point out, are most vulnerable and need affirming literature to help with their development and self-acceptance. The speakers also decried hate speech, which has surfaced again, as well as the opposition to teaching history as it relates to race.

Others argued that the community must not sit back and take it from extremist groups.

“You are all defenders,” said Cynthia Fikes, president of the Columbia Democratic Club, in a fiery speech. “But to succeed a strong defense also needs a strong offense.”

The two books in question were recently the center of controversy in the Fairfax County (Va.) school system. The books were removed in September from the shelves of the high schools pending a comprehensive review following opposition from a parent at a school board meeting. It should be noted that both books were previous winners of the American Library Association’s Alex Awards, which each year recognize “10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.”  

The board established two committees consisting of parents, staff and students to assess the content of the books and make recommendations to the assistant superintendent of instructional services who would make the final determination.

One committee found that “Lawn Boy” includes themes that “are affirming for students” with marginalized identities. “There is no pedophilia in the book,” the committee added. The other committee found that “Gender Queer” depicts “difficulties non-binary and asexual individuals may face.” The committee concluded that “the book neither depicts nor describes pedophilia.” The books were restored to the shelves.

“As this backlash against LGTBQ+ literature demonstrates, we must be ready to stand up and defend the progress we have made,” said Jennifer Mallo, member of the Howard County Board of Education, expressing her own point of view. “We must ensure our elected officials understand and share our values and will fight for our marginalized students.”

The enthusiastic crowd was clearly pleased with the event.

“Today’s rally was meant to inspire our community to take action,” said Chris Hefty, who was the lead organizer of the rally and the emcee. “Action that protects our youth. Action that protects our educators and admins. This action comes in the form of advocacy, communication with elected officials so they know your voice, and through well informed voting to ensure those who represent us are those we know will support us. We shared a message of love, acceptance, and warmth.”

Hefty adds, “The unity we facilitated through this rally was a sight to behold. As the lead organizer I couldn’t have been more pleased! In the future we will be sure to better meet the needs of all our community members. We thank all those in our community for their support and feedback and look forward to accomplishing great things together moving forward.”

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Comings & Goings

Nathanson takes role at Outright Action

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Rikki Nathanson

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Rikki Nathanson on her new position as Senior Advisor – Global Trans Program with OutRight Action International in New York. Nathanson will be based in D.C.  

 “I am absolutely thrilled to be taking on this new role as Senior Advisor in OutRight’s Global Trans Program,” said Nathanson. “I have finally found the perfect fit for me: as a trans woman who has been fighting for equality not only for myself, but for others globally, this position is not only a job, it’s intrinsically part of who I am. So, what better way to live, nurture and grow myself.” 

Nathanson will be working closely with all program staff to ensure a cohesive and intentional approach to gender issues throughout OutRight’s programs, including its approach to gender ideology movements. She will lead new initiatives on gender advocacy and policy change, focused but not limited to legal gender recognition and anti-discrimination legislation and policies.

Prior to this Nathanson was director of housing programs at Casa Ruby in D.C. She has also held a number of other positions including: founder/executive director of Trans Research, Education, Advocacy & Training (TREAT), Zimbabwe; chairperson Southern Africa Trans Forum, SATF, Cape Town, South Africa; executive director, Ricochet Modeling Agency, Zimbabwe; and company secretary for Dunlop Zimbabwe Limited, Zimbabwe. 

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SMYAL Director Shakir to step down Dec. 31

Board to launch Executive Search beginning in January

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SMYAL Executive Director Sultan Shakir addresses the crowd at the 2021 Fall Brunch. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sultan Shakir, who has served as executive director of D.C.’s LGBTQ youth advocacy organization SMYAL since August 2014, announced on Friday that he will be stepping down from his position effective Dec. 31.

In a Dec. 3 announcement, SMYAL said details of Shakir’s future career plans would be announced in the coming weeks.

“While we are sad to see Sultan leave, we wish him nothing but the same success in his new endeavor as he had at SMYAL,” said Rob Cogorno, SMYAL’s board chair. “His leadership and vision enabled SMYAL to expand greatly needed services to LGBTQ youth in the DC metro area throughout his tenure,” Cogorno said.

“I am immensely proud of the work we have been able to accomplish together in my time at SMYAL,” Shakir said in a statement released by SMYAL. “SMYAL has been an integral and vital resource in the DMV community for over 37 years, and while we have come a long way in combating homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexual health stigma, homelessness, violence against the LGBTQ community, and oppression, we have a long way to go,” he said.

“This work has never been about one person,” said Shakir. “SMYAL was founded by our community and we’re still around because of our community,” he said. “I leave knowing that the commitment and passion of the SMYAL Board, staff, volunteers, and youth leaders have created a solid foundation from which our work will continue to grow until LGBTQ youth no longer need us.”

The SMYAL statement says that under Shakir’s tenure, SMYAL, which stands for Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, expanded its programs and services for LGBTQ youth. Among other things, in 2017 SMYAL opened its first of several housing facilities for homeless LGBTQ youth that include culturally competent case management, education and employment assistance.

“The Youth Housing Program now comprises five programmatic models that serve a combined 61 youth residents,” the statement says.

It points out that also under Shakir’s leadership, SMYAL expanded the age range of the youth its programs serve under a new Little SMYALs program, which welcomes LGBTQ youth ages 6-12. And earlier in 2021 under Shakir’s guidance, SMYAL began a new Clinical Services Department “which provides affirming and accessible mental health counseling,” the statement says.

“The SMYAL Board of Directors will officially launch an Executive Search beginning in January 2022 and expects to have named a new Executive Director by summer 2022,” the statement says. It says the board will soon name an interim executive director to work with SMYAL’s Deputy Executive Director, Jorge Membreno, and the organization’s leadership team to oversee the day-to-day activities until a new executive director is named.

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