March 7, 2019 at 9:25 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Trial ends with jury deadlocked in trans murder case
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 felony murder while armed 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.

When the jury indicated four hours later that it remained deadlocked on the other charges, including the murder charge, Lee declared a mistrial for the unresolved charges. He scheduled a status hearing for April 5 to give prosecutors time to decide whether they will request a new trial for the murder and other unresolved charges.

Under the city’s criminal code, the jury’s not guilty verdicts for Little and Johnson and the one guilty verdict for Little on the lesser charge of carrying a pistol without a license will remain in effect even though a mistrial was called for the other charges.

The partial verdicts by the jury earlier in the day 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.

In yet another unexpected development, Judge Lee earlier in the trial dismissed a hate crime designation attached to the murder charge and several other charges, saying there was insufficient evidence that the defendants’ motive was bias against trans people. LGBT activists expressed concern that the prosecutors joined the defense in asking Lee to dismiss the hate crime designations.

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.

Previous reports from this developing story

Jury begins deliberations in D.C. trans murder case

Judge dismisses hate crime designation in Dee Dee Dodds murder trial

Judge: Juror ‘issue’ could lead to mistrial in Dee Dee Dodds murder case

Trial of two men charged in 2016 DC trans murder nearing completion

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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