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Two remaining defendants in D.C. trans murder case accept plea bargain

Dee Dee Dodds murdered in Northeast Washington in 2016

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

Two of the four D.C. men who were charged with first-degree murder while armed for the July 4, 2016, shooting death of transgender woman Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds on a Northeast Washington street pleaded guilty on Sept. 30 to a charge of voluntary manslaughter as part of a plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors.

A four-page letter providing details of the plea bargain offer made by prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, which was filed in D.C. Superior Court, states that the agreement accepted by defendants Jolonta Little, 30, and Monte T. Johnson, 25, includes the decision to drop the murder charge in exchange for a guilty plea to a single count of voluntary manslaughter.

It says that in exchange for the guilty plea prosecutors will also drop additional charges originally brought against Little and Johnson, including robbery while armed, possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, and unlawful possession of a firearm.

The agreement also includes a promise by prosecutors to ask Superior Court Judge Milton C. Lee, who is presiding over the case, to issue a sentence of eight years in prison for both men.

The letter spelling out the details of the plea deal makes it clear that it will be up to Lee to decide whether to accept the eight-year jail term proposed by prosecutors, and there is no guarantee that Lee will not hand down a sentence with a longer prison term.

It states that under the D.C. criminal code, a conviction on a voluntary manslaughter charge carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. Attorneys and observers of the D.C. courts have said judges usually agree to a recommended sentence by prosecutors in cases involving a plea bargain agreement.   

The letter describing the terms of the plea agreement in the Johnson and Little cases does not say whether prosecutors will ask Lee to deduct from the proposed eight-year jail sentence the time that the two men have already spent in jail since the time of their arrest. But in most criminal cases, judges agree to provide full credit for time served in jail prior to a conviction and sentencing.

Johnson has been held without bond for just over five years since his September 2016 arrest. Little has been held without bond for four years and eight months since his arrest in February 2017.

The plea bargain deal came two and a half years after a D.C. Superior Court jury became deadlocked and could not reach a verdict on the first-degree murder charges brought against Johnson and Little following a month-long trial, prompting Lee to declare a mistrial on March 6, 2019.

The two other men charged in Dodd’s murder, Shareem Hall, 27, and his brother, Cyheme Hall, 25, accepted a separate plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors shortly before the start of the 2019 trial in which they pled guilty to second-degree murder. Both testified at the trial as government witnesses.

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

In his testimony, Hall said that in the early morning hours of July 4, 2016, he and the other three men made plans to commit armed robberies for cash in areas of D.C. where trans women, most of whom were sex workers, congregated. He testified that the four men got into a car driven by Little and searched the streets for victims that they didn’t expect to offer resistance.

D.C. police and the U.S. Attorney’s Office initially designated the murder charges against Johnson and Little as a hate crime based on findings by homicide detectives that the men were targeting trans women for armed robberies. However, during Johnson and Little’s trial, Lee dismissed the hate crime designation on grounds that there was insufficient evidence by prosecutors to support a hate crime designation.

At the request of prosecutors, Lee scheduled a second trial for Johnson and Little following the deadlocked jury in the first trial. But court records show that for reasons not disclosed in the public court docket, the start of the second trial was postponed several times. The most recent postponement was due to restrictions placed on the court related to the COVID pandemic.

As of August, of this year, the court records show, the second murder trial for Johnson and Little was scheduled to begin on Feb. 17, 2022. But the records show that as of Sept. 30 of this year the defense attorneys and prosecutors reached an agreement over the plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors. It was on that day, the court records show, that the two men officially agreed to plead guilty to the lower charge of voluntary manslaughter and waived their right to a trial. The following day, on Oct. 1, Lee accepted the guilty pleas and scheduled the sentencing for Dec. 10.

Meanwhile, Cyheme Hall and Shareem Hall have remained in the D.C. jail since the time of their respective arrests. Court records show they were scheduled to be sentenced by Lee on Dec. 20, 10 days after the sentencing for Johnson and Little.

It couldn’t immediately be determined from the court records whether prosecutors allowed the Hall brothers to also plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter and have dropped the second- degree murder charge to which the two men pled guilty back in 2019 as part of an earlier plea bargain deal.

At the time Johnson and Little’s trial ended with the deadlocked jury in March 2019, LGBTQ activists expressed alarm that the jury’s action appeared to be a repeat occurrence of several previous D.C. cases in which male attackers charged with assaulting and murdering trans women of color were not convicted for those crimes.

“This is a very dangerous move on the part of the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” said Ruby Corado, founder and former executive director of Casa Ruby, the D.C. LGBTQ community services center, in referring to the plea deal.

“We need to be strengthening laws to ensure that the horrible epidemic of violence against LGBTQ people that we currently face ends, and not giving criminals a slap on the hand for committing murders against us,” Corado told the Washington Blade. “This sends a message that our lives don’t matter that much to those who already see us as easy targets; we are now becoming disposable people in the eyes of the law.”

D.C. trans rights advocate Alexis Blackmon, Casa Ruby’s interim executive director, called the plea bargain deal offered to Little and Johnson “very disturbing.” Added Blackmon, “How it’s being read across to me is if we can’t convict you on murder then we’re going to basically slap your wrist.”

Blackmon said she will consult with other local LGBTQ activists to determine whether a representative of the LGBTQ community should request to testify at Little and Johnson’s Dec. 10 sentencing hearing to ask the judge to hand down a sentence greater than eight years.

D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and trans advocate Monika Nemeth said she too is troubled over the plea bargain agreement.

“While I am stunned by a plea that reduces the charge from first-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter, I should not be as we are still a society for whom trans people, particularly trans women of color, are not valued and are disposable,” Nemeth said. “I don’t see how you get to voluntary manslaughter when the victims were targeted for being trans. This is not justice.”

William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said he would make inquires with the office’s prosecutors to obtain a response to a question from the Blade asking for an explanation of why the decision was made to issue the plea bargain offer rather than bring defendants Little and Johnson to trial on the murder charge.

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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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Rainbow History Project to honor LGBTQ ‘Pioneers’

Virtual celebration to take place on Dec. 9

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David Mariner, gay news, Washington Blade
David Mariner (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C.’s Rainbow History Project says it will honor and recognize 12 individuals and one organization by designating them as Community Pioneers “for their diverse contributions to the Washington-area LGBTQ community” at a Dec. 9 virtual celebration.

“Rainbow History Project is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to collecting, preserving and sharing the LGBT history of metropolitan Washington, D.C.,” the group says in a statement announcing the event. “The Pioneers awards recognize diverse community leaders for their roles as organizational founders, innovators, advocates and volunteers,” the statement says.

“The Pioneers celebration will be held virtually and is designed with special features that reproduce the feeling of attending in-person, such as live streaming and video chatting with other attendees and Pioneers before and after the core awards programing,” according to the statement.

“Celebrating our Community Pioneers has been a cherished tradition since Rainbow History Project’s founding 21 years ago,” said Rob Berger, the organization’s chairperson. “It’s always an inspiring event, and we are happy that our virtual platform will still allow participants to meet and talk with the Pioneers,” Berger said in the statement.

The virtual event is free and open to the public, the statement says. Organizers released this link for those interested in attending, saying a short registration process may require registering in advance. 

Remo Conference

Following is the list of Community Pioneers scheduled to be honored at the Dec. 9 event as released by Rainbow History Project along with the project’s description of their backgrounds.

Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance, a local group that since its founding has addressed equal rights issues for LGBTQ Virginians from a state and local perspective.

– Eboné F. Bell, founder and editor-in-chief of Tagg Magazine and Tagg Communication LLC.

Bart Forbes, founding member of “Gay Fairfax,” a pioneering television newsmagazine program in Northern Virginia.

– Ellen Kahan, youth and family advocate, president of Rainbow Families, former director of the Lesbian Services Program at Whitman-Walker Health, and currently senior director of programs and partnerships at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

– Theodore Kirkland (deceased), a co-founder of D.C. Black Pride in 1991, member of the Gay Liberation Front and Skyline Faggots, active community health volunteer and advocate.

– Paul Marengo, community leader through LGBTQ organizations including Reel Affirmations, Cherry Fund, and Pride celebrations for youth, Latino, Black and Transgender communities.

– David Mariner, executive director of CAMP Rehoboth, and former executive director of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community.

– Mark Meinke founder longtime chair, Rainbow History Project, and co-founder of Rainbow Heritage Network, a national organization for the recognition and preservation of sites, history and heritage associated with sexual and gender minorities.

– Michael “Micci” Sainte Andress, artist, health educator and advocate and an early leader in bringing African Americans into HIV/AIDS clinical trials.

– Boden Sandstrom, founder and owner of Woman Sound (later City Sound), the first all-woman sound company, which makes LGBTQ rights rallies and the women’s music scene possible.

Casse Culver (deceased), nationally acclaimed D.C. lesbian feminist singer-songwriter, and partner of Boden Sandstrom, whose followers said her love songs and feminist lyrics moved audiences from foot stomping to silent reflection.  

Alan Sharpe, playwright, director and co-founder of the African American Collective Theater in Washington, D.C., in 1976, which now focuses on LGBTQ life and culture in the Black community.

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