TransGriot Note: Here we go again. Another murderer put on trial for killing a transwoman of color, another one who gets off. It's depressingly consistent whether the trial happens in Memphis, TN or London, England.
By Timothy Cwiek
Philadelphia Gay News, PA, USA
A Philadelphia judge has acquitted the killer of a trans woman of murder charges, despite an impassioned plea by the prosecutor that malice was behind the shooting.
At the end of a three-hour bench trial on Aug. 18, Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart convicted Terron Oates of voluntary manslaughter in the death of Alexis King.
Oates, 20, of the Olney section, faces a minimum of five years in prison when he is sentenced next month, but could be released within the next 30 months because of credit for time served.
Police arrested Oates after the February 2006 incident and he has been incarcerated since then.
Minehart didn't explain his ruling, but it appears he accepted the defense's position that Oates acted in the heat of passion after he picked up King for sex in February 2006, then shot her twice after realizing she was a biological male.
Assistant D.A. MK Feeney argued for a first-degree murder conviction or, as an alternative, a third-degree- murder conviction. She said the evidence indicated that Oates targeted King because of her transgender status.
But defense attorney Brian McMonagle stressed the youth and naiveté of his client when he went out looking for sex about 5 a.m. Feb. 1, 2006, at Broad and Spring Garden streets.
He said Oates wasn't aware that transgender sex workers frequented the area. He didn't know King was a biological male until she became sexually aggressive inside Oates' car and indicated that she had a penis. Then, Oates went into a frenzy and shot her twice in the heat of passion, McMonagle said.
Feeney scoffed at that defense.
"Mr. Oates isn't so naïve that he can't find a gun," she said. "He has an illegal gun in his car, he's out at five o'clock in the morning on a school night and he's going to a strip club when he's underage. He's sophisticated enough to be doing those things. Yet the defense portrayed him as an innocent, naïve little boy."
Oates told police he didn't realize King's biological status until King grabbed Oates' hand and placed it on King's penis, inside the car.
Oates did not testify during the trial but his early statements to police were read for the record.
However, Sgt. Daniel Dutch, who's worked undercover as a "john" in the area, testified that he's never heard of — nor experienced — such behavior by a transgender sex worker.
To the contrary, transgender sex workers normally go out of their way to avoid having the johns touch their penises, Dutch said.
And medic William Murphy, who administered emergency care to King after she was shot, testified that King's penis was "tucked" between her legs, held in place by her panties, when he got to her.
The shooting happened in the Nicetown section, near the intersection of Bott and Kerbaugh streets. King was shot twice, from the side and rear, according to the medical examiner's report.
Her body was found about 120 feet from Oates' car, where she collapsed in a pool of blood, evidently trying to run for safety, said Feeney.
McMonagle said the shooting happened during "pandemonium" in Oates' car, after he felt King's penis, tussled with her for Oates' pistol, then King moved toward him.
But Feeney refuted that scenario.
"At no time was she ever coming toward him when he shot her, because she was shot from the side and rear," Feeney said. "That tells you right there that the defendant is lying. If you're coming toward someone, your front would get shot."
She said Oates' actions after the shooting also contradict a heat-of-passion defense.
"He immediately got rid of the weapon," Feeney continued. "If you can't think straight, you're not going to do that. Then he calls 911, does this act on the phone about a robbery and unknown gunman and lies to the responding officer and detectives. To me, that shows a pretty good presence of mind, don't you think?"
She said Oates tried to flee the scene but was stymied because his car wouldn't start. "But for the fact that his car wouldn't start and he was stuck at the scene, we'd probably never even know who killed Alexis King," Feeney said.
Minehart scheduled sentencing for 10 a.m. Sept. 29 in Courtroom 602 of the Criminal Justice Center, 1315 Filbert St.
Timothy Cwiek can be reached at (215) 625-8501 ext. 208
© 2008 Philadelphia Gay News