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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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Comings & Goings

Conner promoted to manager of Scott Circle Communications

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Robert Conner

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].

Congratulations to Robert Conner, promoted to manager of Scott Circle Communications. On his promotion Conner said, “I’m proud to be promoted to manager of Scott Circle Communications. Our clients are all mission-driven. I am fortunate to use my expertise to help clients communicate complex and urgent information to the public in order to help people learn about new research relating to their health, and the society around them. As an activist fighting for equality and LGBTQ causes, my daily work at Scott Circle Communications aligns with my overarching life goal of using communication to benefit the greater good by writing clearly to bridge misunderstandings.” 

Conner previously worked at SKDKnickerbocker in D.C. Prior to that he had been an intern in the office of Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).  He has had a number of speaking engagements with the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and received a bronze Bulldog Award for Best Media Relations Campaign 2022. He served as chair of the volunteer engagement committee of the Human Rights Campaign in Greater Philadelphia.

Conner earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pa.

Congratulations also to Christopher Rudolf who joined Atlantic Shores Sotheby’s International Realty in Ocean City, Md. Rudolph is a licensed Realtor in Maryland and Delaware specializing in the beaches and coastal areas of Worcester County, Md., and Sussex County, Del. He said, “I have been assisting buyers and sellers of real estate in our area since 2015. I thoroughly enjoy helping people achieve their dreams of coastal property ownership. The Maryland/Delaware seashore is a very cool place that I like to call home, and teaching people about the history and attractions of the region is a lifelong passion of mine.”  

In addition to real estate in the warm months, Rudolf works part-time as a manager at The Kite Loft of Ocean City. He was appointed to the Ocean City Board of Zoning Appeals in 2013 by Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan, and recently was elected chair of the board.  

He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Salisbury University in Maryland.  

Christopher Rudolf
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Maryland

Lesbian candidate trails by just 17 votes in Hyattsville Council race

Election board mum on whether all ballots are counted

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Lisbeth Melendez Rivera (Photo courtesy of the Melendez Rivera Campaign)

Lesbian activist and diversity consultant Lisbeth Melendez Rivera was behind her closet rival by just 17 votes on Tuesday night in a three-candidate special election to fill a vacant seat on the Hyattsville, Md., City Council.

In what it said were the unofficial results of the special election, the Hyattsville Board of Supervisors of Elections posted on its website that candidate Emily Strab had 280 votes, Melendez Rivera had 263 votes, and candidate Kelly Burello had 152 votes. Three votes were cast for write-in candidates, the election night posting said.

“Results are unofficial until certified by the Board of Supervisors of Election,” the posting said. The certification was scheduled to take place at 1 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6.

The online posting of the results did not say whether there were any outstanding votes from absentee or mail-in ballots. A spokesperson for the election board couldn’t immediately be reached Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.

The Ward 2 seat on the 10-member Hyattsville Council in the Prince George’s County suburban city became vacant when the incumbent Council member, Robert Croslin, won election as mayor.

Melendez Rivera currently operates BQN Consulting, a firm she created to provide support services related to organizing, training and capacity building, according to the firm’s website. The website says that from 2014 to 2017 she served as Director of Latinx & Catholic Initiatives for the Human Rights Campaign, the D.C.-based national LGBTQ advocacy organization.

“I congratulated Emily,” Melendez Rivera told the Washington Blade Wednesday morning.

 “Have I said this is the end? No, because I want to wait until tomorrow at 1 to see the outcome,” she said.

“What I know is everything that was available to them was counted as of 9:30 last night,” she said, referring to the election board. “There is a process today. They will do a last check of the mail to see if anything was postmarked before 8 p.m. last night,” Melendez Rivera said in referring to possible additional mail-in ballots.

Melendez Rivera said she portrayed herself as the most progressive of the three candidates running for the nonpartisan City Council seat in a city that many consider to be one of the most progressive jurisdictions in the Washington metro area. Residents starting at age 16 and non-citizen immigrants are allowed to vote in local elections.

Like Melendez Rivera, Strab, a former teacher and school administrator, and Burello, who has worked as a workplace diversity trainer, each expressed support for Hyattsville’s diverse population, including racial minorities and immigrants.

The 698 total votes cast in the special election as of Tuesday night is considered a low turnout in the Ward 2 election district, which has a little over 2,000 registered voters.

This story will be updated when new information becomes available.

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District of Columbia

Gay ANC commissioner nominated for director of D.C. Office of ANCs

Confirmation hearing set for Oct. 12

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Ward 1 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Kent Boese (Photo courtesy of Boese)

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) on Sept. 19 introduced a resolution nominating gay law librarian and Ward 1 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Kent Boese to become executive director of the D.C. Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.

The ANC Office director, who is nominated and confirmed by the Council, oversees the operations of the city’s 40 ANCs, which consist of nearly 300 commissioners representing single member ANC districts located in neighborhoods throughout each of the city’s eight wards.

Boese currently represents ANC Single Member District 1A08 in Ward 1.

Shawn Hilgendorf, staff director of the D.C. Council Committee on Government Operations and Facilities, which has jurisdiction over the Office of ANCs, said Mendelson nominated Boese for the Executive Director’s position after the committee earlier this year accepted applications for the position and “interviewed a number of candidates.”

The Council’s Committee of the Whole, which is chaired by Mendelson, is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing for Boese on Oct. 12, Hilgendorf said. The committee consists of all 13 members of the Council. If it approves Boese’s nomination, as expected, the full Council is expected to then take a final vote on the resolution calling for Boese’s appointment.

Boese is a former president of the D.C. Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group, which has since changed its name to the Capital Stonewall Democrats. In 2018, Boese ran unsuccessfully as a candidate for the Ward 1 D.C. Council seat in the Democratic primary.

A resumé for Boese submitted to the Council at the time of his nomination says he has worked since August 2008 as a law librarian, manager of technical services, and manager of library services for the D.C. law firm Wiley Rein.

“I’m honored & humbled by the confidence & support I’ve received from Chairman Mendelson during the selection process for a new Director of OANC,” Boese wrote in a Twitter posting. “I’m excited to leverage my ANC experience & relationships to build stronger supports & new services for ANCs across DC.”

Created under the city’s Home Rule Charter in the 1970s, ANCs serve as non-partisan, unpaid bodies that advise city government agencies on a variety of issues impacting neighborhoods, including zoning, trash collection, liquor license approval, and public safety. Although D.C. government agencies make the final decisions on these issues, they are required to give “great weight” to the recommendations of the ANCs.   

ANC commissioners are elected to two-year terms by the approximately 2,000 people who live in their Single Member Districts.

The director of the ANC Office oversees the administrative affairs, including the budgets, for all of the ANCs. The position became vacant last year when its longtime director Gottlieb Simon resigned. The Council appointed Schannette Grant as interim executive director while it conducted its search for a permanent director.

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