DOJ To Aid Prosecution In Murder Of Iowa Trans Teen

The New York Times reports:

The Justice Department has dispatched an experienced federal hate crimes lawyer to Iowa to help prosecute a man charged with murdering a transgender high school student last year, a highly unusual move that officials said was personally initiated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

In taking the step, Mr. Sessions, a staunch conservative, is sending a signal that he has made a priority of fighting violence against transgender people individually, even as he has rolled back legal protections for them collectively.

The Justice Department rarely assigns its lawyers to serve as local prosecutors, and only in cases in which they can provide expertise in areas that the federal government views as significant. By doing so in this instance, Mr. Sessions put the weight of the government behind a small-city murder case with overtones of gender identity and sexuality.

Kedarie Johnson, a 16-year-old student in Burlington, Iowa, was shot to death in March 2016. Family and friends told local newspapers that he was gay, identified as both male and female and occasionally went by the name Kandicee. Christopher Perras, a Justice Department lawyer, will serve as a county prosecutor in the case, according to court documents filed on Friday.

More about the case:

Curtis Dial, a Keokuk attorney appointed to represent Jorge “Lumni” Sanders-Galvez, 23, filed a motion Monday in Des Moines County District Court seeking “all of the federal grand jury testimony … and scientific results from the Federal Bureau of Investigation” into the March 2016 killing of Kedarie Johnson, 16, of Burlington.

Sanders-Galvez is scheduled to go to trial on first-degree murder charges in state court Oct. 24. Dial said he needs the grand jury testimony to assist him in preparing his case in state court.

Dial’s motion is the first public court document, at either the state or federal level, to acknowledge a grand jury has been convened in U.S. District Court in Davenport. The grand jury is looking into the possibility of indicting Sanders-Galvez and a second-man, Jaron “Wikked West” Purham, 25, also of St. Louis, on federal hate crime charges in Johnson’s death.

Sanders-Galvez’ trial was moved from Des Moines County to Henry County. Brown moved Sanders-Galvez’ trial to Henry County after Dial argued he couldn’t get a fair trial in Des Moines County because of pretrial publicity.

Shortly after Johnson’s murder, local investigators said evidence they obtained during the investigation did not meet the law in Iowa that would have allowed state prosecutors to file hate crime charges against the men in Iowa. However, a federal hate crime has different elements.