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Sentencing postponed for two defendants in D.C. trans murder case

Prosecutors, defense attorneys mum on reason for delay

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

A sentencing hearing scheduled for Dec. 20 for two of four men originally charged with first-degree murder while armed in the July 4, 2016, shooting death of D.C. transgender woman Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds was abruptly cancelled last week without a reason shown in the public court records.

The D.C. Superior Court’s online records for defendant Shareem Hall, 27, and his brother, Cyheme Hall, 25, shows that a status hearing rather than a sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 28 for Shareem Hall and March 4 for Cyheme Hall.

The two men, who have been held without bond since the time of their arrest in the Dodds case in 2016 and 2017, pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree murder in 2019 as part of a plea bargain offer by prosecutors. Under the plea offer they agreed to testify as government witnesses at the 2019 trial of the other two men charged in the Dodds murder, Jalonta Little, 31, and Monte T. Johnson, 25.

That trial ended when the jury was unable to reach a verdict on the murder charge against Little and Johnson, prompting Judge Milton C. Lee to declare a mistrial. Lee agreed to a request by prosecutors to schedule another trial for Little and Johnson on the murder charge, but that never happened.  

D.C. police said Dodds was one of several transgender women that the four men targeted for an armed robbery on the night of Dodds’ murder in locations in the city where trans women were known to congregate. Police said Dodds was shot after she fought back when the men attempted to rob her.

The postponement of the sentencing for the Hall brothers came just over a week after Lee, who continues to preside over the case, sentenced Johnson and Little on Dec. 10 to eight years in prison and five years of supervised probation upon their release in the Dodds murder case. But the sentence was for a single charge of voluntary manslaughter, which prosecutors offered to Johnson and Little in September 2021 in exchange for their agreement to plead guilty after the murder charge and other gun related charges were dropped.

The plea agreement included a promise by prosecutors with the Office of the United States Attorney for D.C. to ask the judge for the eight-year sentence for the voluntary manslaughter offense that under D.C. law carries a possible maximum sentence of 30 years. 

In handing down his sentence, Lee gave Johnson and Little credit for the time they have already served in prison since their respective arrests. Johnson has been held without bond for five years and six months since his arrest in the Dodds case in September 2016. Little has been held for four years and 10 months since the time of his arrest in February 2017.

William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office, has declined to provide a reason for why the sentencing hearing for the Hall brothers was “vacated” as stated in the public court docket and why status hearings were scheduled for the two men instead of a sentencing hearing.

Attempts by the Washington Blade to reach attorney Dorsey Jones, who’s representing Shareem Hall, and attorney Jonathan Zucker, who is representing Cyheme Hall, have been unsuccessful in an effort to determine the reason for the sentencing delay.

Also not responding to a Blade inquiry about the reason for the sentencing delay was Judge Lee’s law clerk, who court observers say would likely know the details of the case.

D.C. attorney Tony Bisceglie, who has practiced criminal law, told the Blade one reason for the postponement of the sentencing could be a request by the Hall brothers through their attorneys to withdraw their guilty plea on the second-degree murder charge. Judges have approved withdrawals of a guilty plea in past cases based on the circumstances of the case, according to Bisceglie.

One possible development is that that the defense attorneys and prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office are negotiating a new plea deal in which the guilty plea for second-degree murder is withdrawn so that the Hall brothers could then plead guilty to the same lower charge of voluntary manslaughter to which defendants Little and Johnson were allowed to plead.

“It could be that the government is reconsidering,” Bisceglie said. “There are any number of possibilities. There’s no way to know,” he said unless the attorneys or prosecutors agree to disclose what’s happening in the case.

The public court docket shows that the status hearing for Shareem Hall is scheduled for Jan. 28 at noon before Judge Lee. The docket shows the status hearing for Cyheme Hall is scheduled for March 4 at 11:30 a.m. also before Judge Lee.

Since status hearings are open to the public, it’s possible but not certain that the reason behind the delay in the sentencing will become known through statements made by the parties at those hearings.

At the time of the sentencing for Johnson and Little, the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community’s Anti-Violence Project submitted a community impact statement to the court calling on Judge Lee to hand down the maximum sentence for the two men.

“We adamantly request that the court impose the maximum sentences allowed, reinforcing respectful and impactful consequences to these defendants for their violent crimes,” the Anti-Violence Project’s statement says. “Additionally, we ask that you take into consideration the perceived vulnerability of the victim of the defendants’ violent crimes as a transgender woman of color whose rights and life were targeted in a way that confirms they did not matter to the defendants,” the statement says.

“This victim’s attempt to defend herself from their violence was answered with lethal brutality,” the statement continues. “Her voice is silenced, but the grief and outcry for justice from the LGBTQ+ community rises to honor her death and demand effective and responsive protection for the lives of all LGBTQ+ people targeted by future criminals.”

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District of Columbia

Capital Stonewall Democrats backs Robert White over Bowser

LGBTQ group endorses Erin Palmer over incumbent Mendelson

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Council member Robert White won the backing of Capital Stonewall Democrats in his bid for mayor over incumbent Muriel Bowser. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Capital Stonewall Democrats, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group, announced on May 17 that it has selected D.C. Council member Robert White (D-At-Large) over incumbent Mayor Muriel Bowser and political newcomer Erin Palmer over D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson as its endorsed candidates in the city’s June 21 Democratic primary.

With Bowser and Mendelson as well as White having longstanding records of support for LGBTQ rights and Palmer expressing strong support for the LGBTQ community, local observers say the LGBTQ Democratic group’s 163 voting members appear to have based their endorsement decisions on other pressing issues facing the city rather than only LGBTQ specific issues.

In other races, Capital Stonewall Democrats, formerly known as the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, which was founded in 1976, voted to endorse incumbent Ward 1 Council member Brianne Nadeau over gay former D.C. police officer Salah Czapary and community activist Sabel Harris who are running against Nadeau.

In the Ward 5 Council race, the group has endorsed gay D.C. Board of Education member Zachary Parker in a five-candidate contest for the seat being vacated by incumbent Council member Kenyan McDuffie, who ran unsuccessfully for the office of D.C. Attorney General.

The group has also endorsed Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who is running unopposed in the primary; D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who’s favored to win re-election against two lesser-known opponents; and D.C. shadow U.S. Rep. Oye Owolewa, who’s also favored over a lesser known opponent.

Capital Stonewall Democrats announced it did not make an endorsement in the Ward 3 and At-Large D.C. Council races and in the D.C. Attorney General race because no candidate received a required 60 percent of the vote under the group’s longstanding rules for endorsements.

By not endorsing in the At-Large race, the group passed over incumbent At-Large Council member Anita Bonds, a longtime supporter of LGBTQ issues. Bonds is being challenged by Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Lisa Gore, former D.C. shadow House member Nate Fleming, and former D.C. Council staffer Dexter Williams.

In the hotly contested Ward 3 Council race, nine candidates are competing for the seat being vacated by incumbent Mary Cheh, another longtime LGBTQ rights supporter.

In the race for attorney general, three prominent local attorneys — Brian Schwalb, Ryan Jones, and Bruce Spiva — are competing for the AG position being vacated by incumbent Karl Racine, who chose not to run for re-election.

Capital Stonewall Democrats’ endorsements follow a series of five LGBTQ candidate forums the group held virtually in which most of the candidates running in the various races attended.
In the group’s mayoral form, Bowser was the only one of the four mayoral contenders that did not attend. Her supporters said she had a conflicting event organized by gay Democratic activist Kurt Vorndran that prevented her from attending the Stonewall event.

Those who attended the mayoral forum were Robert White, D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate Trayon White (D-Ward 8), and former attorney and community activist James Butler.
A detailed vote tally released by Capital Stonewall Democrats shows the vote count for each of the endorsed candidates as well as candidates in the races for which the group did not make an endorsement.

In the mayoral race, Robert White received 120 votes, or 74.5 percent. Bowser came in second place with 37 votes or 23.0 percent; Trayon White received just two votes or 1.2 percent, with Butler receiving just 1 vote at 0.6 percent. One vote was cast for no endorsement.

In the D.C. Council Chair race, Palmer received 89 votes or 60.1 percent, just surpassing the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement. Mendelson received 48 votes or 32.4 percent. Eleven votes were cast for no endorsement.

In the Ward 1 Council race, Nadeau received 100 votes or 69.4 percent compared to gay candidate Czapary, who came in second place with 23 votes or 16.0 percent. Candidate Sabel Harris came in third place with 9 votes or 6.3 percent, with a no endorsement selection receiving 12 votes or 8.3 percent.

In the Ward 5 contest, gay school board member Parker received 91 votes or 64.5 percent. Candidate Faith Hubbard came in second with 31 votes or 22.0 percent. The remaining candidates received fewer than 10 votes each, including former At-Large and former Ward 5 Council member Vincent Orange, who received 5 votes or 3.5 percent.

“Since Capital Stonewall Democrats has only 221 members, and only 163 bothered to vote, this is clearly not representative of the LGBTQ+ community in the District,” said gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, who is supporting Bowser for mayor.

But longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights advocate A. Billy S. Jones-Hennin is among the local activists who view the Capital Stonewall Democrats’ endorsement of lesser-known challengers – most of whom have progressive, left-leaning views – as a reflection of changes in the demographics of the LGBTQ community and the Stonewall group’s members.

“At the forefront for voters is who they feel can address core problems like crime, open drug transactions, and increased homeless populations,” Jones-Hennin told the Blade. “Just asking voters for support based on their support of the LGBTQ+ community in the past does not cut it,” he said. “We are multi-faceted voters looking for new, more progressive and aggressive leadership.”

The Capital Stonewall Democrats list of endorsements as well as races with no endorsement can be viewed below:

• Mayor: Robert White, with 74.5% of the round one vote
• DC Attorney General: No Endorsement
• DC Council Chair: Erin Palmer, with 60.1% of the round one vote
• Ward 1 Council: Brianne K. Nadeau, with 69.4% of the round one vote
• Ward 3 Council: No Endorsement
• Ward 5 Council: Zachary Parker, with 64.5% of the round one vote
• Ward 6 Council: Charles Allen, with 83.2% of the round one vote
• At-Large Council: No Endorsement
• Delegate to U.S. House of Representatives: Eleanor Holmes Norton, with 69.7% of the round one vote
• U.S. Representative: Oye Owolewa, with 66.1% of the round one vote

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District of Columbia

Pannell resigns in protest from Ward 8 Council member’s LGBT Commission

Says Trayon White has no out member of his staff

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Phil Pannell resigned as a member of the Ward 8 LGBT Commission created by D.C. Council member Trayon White. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights activist Phil Pannell announced on May 6 that he has resigned as a member of the Ward 8 LGBT Commission created by D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) on grounds that White does not have an LGBTQ person on his Council staff.

White’s office has said the Council member created the commission to “focus on the specific needs of this community” in his role as a supporter of LGBTQ equality.

“For me, this is a major issue of inclusion, affirmative action and diversity,” Pannell said in an email message announcing his resignation. “I as a Black Gay man cannot in good conscience continue to be a member of my Councilmember’s LGBT Commission when he has no one from my community on his staff,” Pannell’s announcement message continues.

“This is hypocritical at best and structurally homophobic at worst,” he said. “I deeply resent and refuse to be used as anyone’s homosexual prop for any purposes. Therefore, I resign from the commission effective immediately.”

In response to a request by the Washington Blade for comment on Pannell’s resignation, Julia Jessie, White’s director of communications, said White’s Council office “follows all legal HR procedures and hires based on experience and skillset.” Jessie added, “As an employer, we do not discriminate or consider a person’s race, color, religion, or sex, including sexual orientation or gender identity, when making decisions about employment qualifications.”

According to Jessie, “We do, however, harvest a safe and inclusionary work environment where employees who wish to voluntarily disclose their sexual orientation of gender identity feel comfortable doing so.”

White’s office released a statement from the Ward 8 LGBT Commission’s chair, Marvin ‘Rahim’ Briggs, saying the commission “regretfully accepts” Pannell’s resignation.

“The Commission will continue to focus on and address issues affecting Ward 8 LGBTQ,” Briggs says in the statement. “We’ll continue to organize to promote acceptance of LGBTQ community diversity and to foster respect and appreciation for each member of the community residing in Ward 8.”

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District of Columbia

Two gay candidates disqualified from D.C. primary ballot

Republican, Libertarian activists withdraw from races

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(Blade archive photo by Aram Vartian)

A member of the Capital Stonewall Democrats, D.C.’s largest LGBTQ local political group, mounted a successful challenge before the D.C. Board of Elections earlier this month that resulted in a gay Republican and a gay Libertarian Party activist withdrawing as candidates for public office in the city’s June 21 primary.

James Harnett, 24, a member of the Ward 2 Democratic Committee and a member of the staff of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), filed challenges to the candidacy of gay Libertarian Party activist Bruce Majors, who was running unopposed in the June 21 primary for the office of both D.C. Delegate to the U.S. House and chair of the Libertarian Party of D.C.

The Board of Elections upheld Harnett’s challenge claiming that Majors failed to obtain a sufficient number of valid petition signatures needed to be placed on the ballot for both offices, according to elections board spokesperson Nicholas Jacobs. Majors withdrew his candidacy for both offices rather than contest the challenge.

The Board of Elections also upheld a challenge filed by Harnett against the candidacy of gay Republican and D.C. Log Cabin Republicans organization member Andrew Desser, who was running unopposed in the primary for the position of Ward 1 Chairperson of the D.C. Republican Committee.

Desser told the Blade he acknowledged that he fell short in obtaining the needed number of valid petition signatures and would not contest the challenge.

Harnett, who appeared to be acting on his own behalf and not representing the Capital Stonewall Democrats in his challenges to Majors and Desser before the election board, did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment.

Board of Elections records showed that he also successfully challenged six other candidates seeking ballot placement in the June 21 primary, one of whom, Lori Furstenberg, was running for mayor as a Republican and another, Corren Brown, was running for mayor as a Statehood-Green Party member.

The others Harnett mounted a successful challenge against were GOP candidates running for the Ward 2, Ward 4, and Ward 7 GOP Chairperson positions; and Leniqua ‘Dominique’ Jenkins, a Democrat running for the at-large D.C. Council seat, who was the only Democrat challenged by Harnett.

Harnett, a former ANC commissioner in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood, ran unsuccessfully in 2020 for the nonpartisan office of D.C. Board of Education for Ward 2. Among the candidates he ran against was gay education advocate Allister Chang, who won that race.

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