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District of Columbia

Man sentenced to 39 years for 3 D.C. ‘home invasion’ rapes

Prosecutors say suspect ‘elaborately planned’ sexual assaults in Capitol Hill

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Bryant Webster, 38, of Suitland, Md., was sentenced to to 39 years in prison.

A D.C. Superior Court judge on April 6 sentenced Bryant Webster, 38, of Suitland, Md., to 39 years in prison just under three years after he pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting three men in their nearby Capitol Hill apartments in 2016 after entering the apartments through what authorities said were unlocked doors.

“During a 50-day period between August 12 and October 1, 2016, the defendant raped three adult men within blocks of each other,” according to a 27-page sentencing memorandum submitted by prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney urging Superior Court Judge Marisa Demeo to hand down the full sentence of 39 years requested by prosecutors.

The memorandum says Webster committed “multiple acts of elaborately planned, stealth, home invasion rapes” against the three male victims, who he observed and stalked before committing the sexual assaults.

Among other things, the memorandum says Webster somehow found out about the victims’ careers and college backgrounds and knew their names and the name and address of one of their girlfriends. And in at least one case, he entered and looked over the victim’s apartment and stole some of his personal checks before coming back a week or so later to rape him, according to the lengthy memo.

None of the numerous court documents related to the case states whether Webster self-identifies as gay or whether he was involved in any LGBTQ organizations or activities in the D.C. area, where he has lived his entire life.

Thomas Key, who served as Webster’s attorney at the time of the sentencing, did not respond to a request from the Blade for comment on the case.   

In court charging documents, prosecutors said there were no signs of a forced entry into any of the apartments that Webster entered and committed the alleged sexual assaults. The charging documents say the victims told police and prosecutors they most likely left their doors unlocked.

The charging documents say Webster forced two of the three victims into submitting to his sexual assault by threatening them with a handgun and after he bound their hands and feet with black duct tape that he pulled out of a backpack he had with him.

He sexually assaulted the third victim, identified in charging documents as P.H., while P.H. was asleep and possibly unconscious on a sofa in the apartment he shared with one of the other two victims, identified as L.K. As he had in the other incident, Webster somehow entered the apartment of P.H. and L.K. on different occasions without breaking in, the charging documents say.

Police later analyzed video that Webster took with his phone, which police obtained at the time of his arrest, showing him performing oral sex on the unconscious P.H.

“Additional images captured the defendant taking a ‘selfie’ with the defendant’s mouth on P.H.’s penis, the defendant wearing pink gloves manipulating P.H.’s genitals, and the defendant’s penis next to P.H.’s face,” the U.S. Attorney’s sentencing memorandum states. “These images were taken all while P.H. remained asleep or otherwise unconscious,” the memo says.

The charging documents and sentencing memo describe in detail how Webster’s sexual assault of L.K., the last of the three men he’s charged with sexually assaulting, led to his arrest. The documents say Webster entered the apartment where L.K., P.H. and two other roommates lived just after midnight on Oct. 1, 2016, through an apparent unlocked door.

At gunpoint, he ordered L.K. into L.K.’s bedroom, ordered him to take off his clothes, ordered him onto his bed, and bound his hands and feet with duct tape, the charging documents continue. He then removed his own pants and underpants and proceeded to rape L.K., the charging documents say. As the sexual assault continued, both L.K. and Webster heard someone enter the apartment, prompting Webster to lock the bedroom door.

Knowing the person who entered the apartment was one of his roommates, L.K. waited for Webster to let down his guard, the charging documents say. When he saw that Webster put his gun down on the bed, L.K. managed to break free of the duct tape on his hands, grabbed the gun, and screamed for his roommate to help him as he and Webster struggled for the gun. According to the charging documents and the sentencing memo, the roommate forced open the locked bedroom door and helped L.K. subdue Webster, allowing L.K. to take the gun, run out of the bedroom and call police, who arrived minutes later and arrested Webster.

He has been held in jail without bond in the five years and six months since the time of his Oct. 1, 2016, arrest, and the time of his sentencing earlier this month on April 6.   

In July 2019, two years and nine months after his arrest, Webster pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree sexual abuse while armed and one count of second-degree sexual abuse as part of a plea bargain agreement offered by prosecutors. The plea, which was dependent upon the judge’s approval, called for a sentence of between 32 and 39 years.

Court records show that the sentencing date, which was initially set for September 19, 2019, was postponed repeatedly after Webster, through his attorneys, filed two separate motions to rescind his guilty plea and go to trial. Those motions were denied by the judge, but they and other motions filed by the defense challenging evidence presented by police and prosecutors along with COVID-related delays of court proceedings resulted in the sentencing being delayed two-and-a-half years until April 6 of this year.

The sentencing memorandum says police and prosecutors have obtained evidence through videos and photos on Webster’s phone that he committed sexual assaults on other men while gaining access to their homes, none of whom have been identified. The memo says Webster also allegedly sexually assaulted one of his cellmates at the D.C. jail.

According to the sentencing memo, Webster led a double, “fraudulent” life, appearing to his family and friends as a highly respected upstanding citizen.

“He graduated from college with a degree in psychology,” the memo says. “He worked regularly focusing on jobs where he interacted with people who had trouble faring for themselves like homeless men and special education students,” it says. “He also had a history of working for various hotels and was involved in his church as a minister,” the memo continues.

“However, behind that veneer is an extremely dangerous, sadistic, armed serial rapist,” the memo to the judge concludes. “He stalks people, invades their homes, steals their possessions, and inflicts inconceivable horrors on their body…The danger he poses to the public is multiplied by the fact that he parades as a law abiding, rational, and even kind individual.”

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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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