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First federal gender-based hate crime starts in South Carolina over trans woman's killing

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LA Post: First federal gender-based hate crime starts in South Carolina over trans woman's killing
AP
JAMES POLLARD
February 19, 2024

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The first federal trial over a hate crime based on gender identity is set to begin Tuesday in South Carolina, where a man faces charges that he killed a Black transgender woman and then fled to New York.

The U.S. Department of Justice alleges that in August 2019, Daqua Lameek Ritter coaxed the woman — who is anonymously referred to as “Dime Doe” in court documents — into driving to a sparsely populated rural county in South Carolina. Ritter shot her three times in the head after they reached an isolated area near a relative's home, according to Breon Peace, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, where Ritter was arrested last January.

In recent years there has been a surge in attacks on the LGBTQ+ community. For decades, transgender women of color have faced disproportionately high rates of violence and hate crimes, according to the Department of Homeland Security. In 2022, the number of gender identity-based hate crimes reported by the FBI increased by 37% compared to the previous year.

Until 2009, federal hate crime laws did not account for offenses motivated by the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity. The first conviction involving a victim targeted for their gender identity came in 2017. A Mississippi man who pleaded guilty to killing a 17-year-old transgender woman received a 49-year prison sentence.

But Tuesday marks the first time that such a case has ever been brought to trial, according to Brook Andrews, the assistant U.S. attorney for the District of South Carolina. Never before has a federal jury decided whether to punish someone for a crime based on the victim's gender identity.

The government has said that Ritter's friends and girlfriend learned about a sexual relationship between Ritter and the woman in the month prior to the killing. The two had been close friends, according to the defense, and were related through Ritter’s aunt and the woman’s uncle.

Prosecutors believe the revelation, which prompted Ritter's girlfriend to hurl a homophobic slur, made Ritter “extremely upset.”

“His crime was motivated by his anger at being mocked for having a sexual relationship with a transgender woman,” government lawyers wrote in a filing last January.

They say that Ritter lied that day about his whereabouts to state police and fled South Carolina. Prosecutors have said he enlisted others to help burn his clothes, hide the weapon and mislead police about his location on the day of the murder.

Government lawyers plan to present witness testimony about Ritter's location and text messages with the woman, in which he allegedly persuaded her to take the ride. Evidence also includes video footage taken at a traffic stop that captures him in the woman's car hours before her death.

Other evidence includes DNA from the woman's car and testimony from multiple people who say that Ritter privately confessed to them about the fatal shooting.

Ritter's lawyers have said it is no surprise that Ritter might have been linked to the woman's car, considering their intimate ties. The defense has argued that no physical evidence points to Ritter as the perpetrator. Further, the defense has said the witnesses' claims that Ritter tried to dispose of evidence are inconsistent.

Prosecutors don't plan to seek the death penalty, but Ritter could receive multiple life sentences if convicted by a jury. In addition to the hate crimes charge, Ritter faces two other counts that he committed murder with a firearm and misled investigators.

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Pollard is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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