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District of Columbia

Fourth man charged in 2016 D.C. trans murder sentenced to seven years

But with credit for time served, Cyheme Hall could be free in two years

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<strong.Deeniquia ‘Dee Dee’ Dodds was shot to death in 2016. (Photo via Facebook)

A D.C. Superior Court judge on May 10 handed down a sentence of seven years in prison for the last of four men originally charged with first degree murder while armed in the July 4, 2016, shooting death of transgender woman Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds on a street in Northeast Washington.

Judge Milton C. Lee delivered his sentence on Tuesday for D.C. resident Cyheme Hall, 26, just under three weeks after he issued the same seven-year sentence to Hall’s brother, Shareem Hall, 28, who, along with two other D.C. men, were initially charged with first degree murder while armed in connection with the Dodds case.

Police and prosecutors said Dodds was one of several transgender women that the Hall brothers and co-defendants Jalonta Little, 31, and Monte Johnson, 26, targeted for armed robberies in the early morning hours of July 4, 2016. Court charging documents say Johnson allegedly fatally shot Dodds in the neck after she fought back during the robbery attempt.

Lee acknowledged at the Tuesday, May 10 sentencing hearing that Cyheme Hall and his brother agreed to an offer in 2019 to cooperate with police and prosecutors following their arrests in exchange for being allowed to plead guilty to a second-degree murder charge. The two brothers testified as government witnesses at Little and Johnson’s trial in 2019 on the first degree murder charge and other charges, including armed robbery.

The judge noted that because of that cooperation, prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C. issued a recommendation that the two brothers be sentenced to seven years in the Dodds case, a sentence that Lee pointed out is far lower than the potential sentence for a second-degree murder conviction. Under D.C. law, a second-degree murder conviction has a maximum sentence of life in prison.

As part of the plea offer that Cyheme Hall accepted in 2019, he also pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit a crime of violence. Lee on May 10 sentenced him to seven years for that charge in addition to the seven years for the second degree murder charge. However, Lee ordered that the two sentences be served concurrently for a total of seven years.

Under standard sentencing practices, Lee gave Cyheme Hall and his brother credit for the just over five years the two have already served in jail since the time of their arrest. That means Cyheme Hall could be released in less than two years, after which he must serve five years of supervised probation after being released as part of the sentence handed down by Lee.

Cyheme Hall’s attorney, Jonathan Zucker, told Lee at the sentencing hearing that his client faces a possible sentence of nine years for a parole violation charge in connection with an unrelated burglary case in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Zucker said Hall was given a nine-year suspended sentence in the burglary case on the condition that he would not become involved in criminal activity during the time of his parole.

Lee declined a request by Zucker that Lee consider making a recommendation to the judge overseeing Hall’s parole violation case in Prince George’s County that the nine years be served concurrently with the seven years for the D.C. case.

Zucker said this means that it will be up to a Maryland judge to decide whether Cyheme Hall should serve up to nine years or less time in the Maryland case upon his release in the Dodds case.

The 2019 trial for Little and Johnson, meanwhile, ended with Judge Lee declaring a mistrial after the jury was unable to reach a verdict. Before the case went before the jury, prosecutors dropped their initial designation of the murder as a hate crime after Lee ruled in favor of a defense motion that there was insufficient evidence to prove a hate crime. Prosecutors said they filed the hate crime charge because they believe the men targeted Dodds because she was transgender.  

After initially saying they planned to request another trial on the murder charge, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office offered Little and Johnson a plea bargain deal, which they accepted, in which they pled guilty to a single count of voluntary manslaughter with the murder charge dropped.

The offer included a promise by prosecutors to ask for a sentence of eight years for the two men. Lee agreed to that request when he sentenced Little and Johnson to eight years last December.

Some LGBTQ activists have expressed concern that prosecutors should have pushed for a second trial for Johnson and Little. Activists have said reducing the charge from first degree murder to manslaughter sends a message that targeting members of the LGBTQ community for crimes of violence, especially trans women of color, can result in a lenient sentence of little more than a slapping of the wrist.

Attorneys familiar with criminal cases like this have said prosecutors sometimes offer a plea deal after determining that going to trial a second time could result in a not-guilty verdict based on the circumstances of the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sharon Donovan, the lead prosecutor in the Dodds murder case, discussed prosecutors’ rationale for agreeing to a sentence of eight years for Little and Johnson during their sentencing hearing last December in response to a question from Lee asking whether the sentence was too lenient.     

“Your honor, we believe that this takes into consideration the first trial and the evidentiary difficulties that were highlighted during the first trial and other incidents that occurred during the first trial,” Donovan told Lee. She added that the impact of a sentence on the victim’s family and the community was also considered. “And we believe that taking all of that into consideration, that it is an appropriate sentence,” she said.

At his sentencing hearing on May 10, Cyheme Hall offered his apologies to the family of the victim and said he was deeply sorry for his role in the incident that took the life of Dodds.

In a written statement submitted to the court, Hall expressed his “deepest remorse” for his actions. “I know that no matter what I say or do, I cannot change what has happened but going forward I vow to dedicate the rest of my life righting my wrong,” he wrote. “I feel like I owe this to the victim as well as the family and my community.”

Lee thanked Hall for his statement but said he could not lower the sentence to six years, as requested by Hall’s attorney, nor could he ask the Maryland judge to consider a lower sentence for the parole violation.

“You did not have the strength to say no to this crime,” Lee told Hall. “You could have extricated yourself from this, but you didn’t. There are some things you can’t get out of,” Lee said. “It was shameful what you did.”

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District of Columbia

Man charged with assaulting lesbian activist pleads guilty, gets 14 months in jail

Aiyi’nah Ford hit in head with barstool at Congress Heights restaurant in August

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Lesbian activist Aiyi’nah Ford was attacked in August. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A D.C. Superior Court judge on Nov. 17 sentenced a 46-year-old D.C. man to 14 months in jail after he pleaded guilty in September to an assault charge for an incident in which he attacked lesbian activist Aiyi’nah Ford at a restaurant on Aug. 3

An arrest affidavit filed by D.C. police on Aug. 12 states that Donnell Anthony Peterson allegedly knocked Ford to the floor at the Player’s Lounge restaurant and bar in the city’s Congress Heights neighborhood before hitting her in the head twice with the metal legs of a barstool.

Ford told the Washington Blade that Peterson, who was a regular customer at Player’s Lounge as was she, assaulted her while repeatedly calling her a “dyke bitch” after the two got into a verbal argument over, among other things, the city’s violence interruption program. Ford said she told Peterson and others who were having a discussion that she considers the program to be ineffective and a “joke.”

According to court records, witnesses reported seeing Ford bleeding profusely from the head before an ambulance took her to George Washington University Hospital, where she received multiple stitches to treat a serious head wound.

Court records show that D.C. police, who were called to the scene at the time of the assault, initially charged Peterson with Assault With a Dangerous Weapon. The records show that Peterson through his attorney agreed in September to accept a plea bargain offer by prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C.

The offer called for lowering the charge to Assault With Significant Bodily Injury in exchange for pleading guilty with a promise by prosecutors to seek a sentence of no more than 14 month in jail.

The court records show that Superior Court Judge James A. Cromwell sentenced Peterson to 32 months of incarceration but suspended 18 months, requiring that he serve 14 months after which he would be released on probation. Court records show the probation was to last 18 months. Under court rules, if someone violates the terms of their probation, which almost always prohibits them from breaking the law or threatening a person they were charged with assaulting, the released person is ordered back to jail to serve the remaining time that had been suspended.

At the time Peterson was arrested in August a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office, in response to a question from the Blade, declined to disclose why prosecutors chose not to classify Peterson’s assault against Ford as a hate crime based on her sexual orientation.

Ford told the Blade this week that the lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alec Levi, was supportive of her throughout the case and told her a hate crime designation sometimes makes it more difficult to obtain a conviction if a case goes to trial. Ford said Levi told her prosecutors wanted to do all they could to bring Peterson to justice for his attack against her.

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District of Columbia

Longtime activist Lane Hudson arrested on drug charges

Homeland Security launched probe leading to August 2021 raid

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Lane Hudson was arrested last year on drug charges. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Documents filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia show that law enforcement officers with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations division and the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department arrested D.C. gay activist Thomas Lane Hudson on Aug. 11, 2021, on charges of possession with the intent to distribute illegal drugs.

An affidavit filed in court says the arrest took place at Hudson’s Logan Circle area apartment after officers forcibly entered the apartment when Hudson did not respond to their knocking on the door announcing their presence with a search warrant.

The affidavit says the officers discovered and seized illegal narcotics that were field tested and weighed and which included “1,096.4 grams of a mixture and substance containing Methamphetamine, a Schedule II controlled substance; 29.5 grams of a mixture and substance containing Heroin, a Schedule I controlled substance; and 322.974 fluid ounces of a mixture and substance containing Gamma Butyrolactone (‘GBL’), a Schedule I controlled substance.”

Court records show that Hudson was held without bond until at least Aug. 25, 2021, when U.S. District Court Judge Robin M. Meriweather approved a motion filed by prosecutors to seal the case from the public record on grounds that it “contains sensitive information regarding the underlying ongoing criminal investigation.”

The Aug. 25 entry that up until then was part of the public court record announcing the decision to seal the case did not disclose any information about an underlying or ongoing investigation. It also did not disclose why federal Homeland Security investigators became involved in a drug case ordinarily handled by D.C. police.

Hudson and his attorney, who is identified in the court records as Brian Keith McDaniel, did not respond to repeated requests by the Washington Blade for comment on the case and to disclose whether they dispute the accuracy of the charges filed against Hudson.

The arrest affidavit, which was filed before the case was sealed, remains a part of the public record. It says that in addition to the allegation that illegal drugs were seized from Hudson’s apartment, the officers conducting the search found “assorted items related to distribution of controlled substances.”

Among the items found, it says, were digital scales, plastic zip bags, vacuum sealer and vacuum sealer bags, a currency counting machine, and “approximately $48,000 in United States currency.” 

Although the public court records do not show whether Hudson was released while awaiting trial or was still being held, sources who know Hudson pointed out that he resumed posting messages on social media in December of 2021 after a period when no postings from him could be found. This suggests he has been released while the case remains pending.

Hudson’s arrest came less than a year before the D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance released its 2022 D.C. LGBTQ Election Guide called Leave No One Behind, which calls for the decriminalization of possession of currently illegal drugs for personal use.

Although the GLAA document doesn’t call for decriminalizing the selling of illegal drugs, it says “evidence demonstrates criminalization has done little to curb the prevalence of drugs in our communities and is not an effective way of getting people into treatment because it stigmatizes drug users.”

Hudson is well known in the D.C. area and among LGBTQ advocates locally and nationally. He was twice elected as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention; served on Hillary Clinton’s national finance committee; and once worked for the Human Rights Campaign. 

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District of Columbia

Hundreds attend Dupont Circle vigil for Colorado shooting victims

Clergy members join activists in denouncing ant-LGBTQ violence

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Hundreds showed up Monday night to remember Club Q victims. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Several hundred people turned out for a candlelight vigil in Dupont Circle Monday night to honor the five who died and at least 25 wounded in the mass shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colo., this past Saturday night.

Among those who participated in the vigil were eight ministers and two elders from local LGBTQ supportive churches.

The event took place shortly after Colorado authorities released the names of the five patrons of the Club Q nightclub who police said were shot to death by lone gunman suspect Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, who was subdued by other patrons before police arrived on the scene and placed him under arrest.

“We’re going to take the time to heal, to process, to honor those victims, members of our own community,” said Larry Miller, news anchor for D.C.’s WUSA 9 TV, who served as moderator at the vigil.

“It will be tough,” Miller said in opening the event. “But we’ll do it together. If you need to cry this is an opportunity to do that,” he said. “If you need to pray, you’ll have that opportunity as well.”  

The vigil was organized jointly by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs; Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s LGBTQ Pride events; the Center for Black Equity, which organizes D.C.’s Black Pride events; the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community; and the Pride Fund to End Gun Violence.

“Today we are standing in solidarity with our queer family in Colorado Springs in the aftermath of a tragic and deadly shooting at Club Q,” Japer Bowles, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, told the gathering.

“However, gun violence and anti-LGBTQ hate will not stomp out our life,” Bowles said. “And even though we are mourning today and tomorrow and through the holidays where seats around the dinner table will be empty due to gun violence and anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, our love and our strength as a community will prevail.”

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Kenya Hutton, deputy director of the Center for Black Equity, which organizes D.C.’s Black Pride events, told those attending the Dupont Circle vigil he worries that a shooting incident like the one in Colorado Springs could happen anywhere, including in D.C.

“I’m tired of having to say the names of those we’ve lost for no reason,” he said. “We have legislators pushing all these anti-LGBTQ bills,” Hutton said. “We can’t sit by silently and let this continue.” 

Among the clergy members who spoke was Rev. Adalphie Johnson, Senior Pastor of the Community Church of Washington, D.C.

“I come here this evening with a heavy heart,” she said. “A heavy heart because we are still living in a world where folks need to understand what it means to love, what it means to allow people to be free, what it means to allow people to live their authentic self.”

Others who spoke included Mike Silverstein, a member of the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission; Ryan Bos, executive director of Capital Pride Alliance; Ashley Smith, president of the Capital Pride Alliance Board of Directors and a member of the Human Rights Campaign board; Alexis Elizabeth Rodriguez, director of D.C.’s Latinx Pride organization; and D.C. artist and poet Reggie Rich.

Other clergy members who participated in the vigil included Rev. Aaron Wade, founder and Pastor Emeritus of the Community Church of Washington, D.C.; Rev. Amanda Hendler-Voss, Senior Minister at First Congressional United church of Christ; Rev. Dr. Arthur Cribbs Jr., Senior Pastor of Little River United Church of Christ; Rev. Dr. Sidney Fowler of United Church of Christ; and Rev. Kenneth King, Pastor serving New Hope Baptist Church and Plymouth Congressional United Church of Christ.

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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