Brooklyn, New York – After a year and a half, a murdered Ecuadoran immigrant mistaken as gay may get some justice. José Sucuzhañay, 31, a native of Ecuador with a real estate brokerage in New York, was savagely dispatched with a beer bottle, kicks and stomps, and an aluminum baseball bat, according to testimony reported by media throughout the Five Boroughs of New York. The trials of Hakim Scott, 26, and Keith Phoenix, 30, got underway in Brooklyn Supreme Court on April 10 for the 2008 murder of Sucuzhañay. Charges against the pair include second-degree murder, manslaughter, assault, and murder as a hate crime. If convicted, the alleged killers could face sentences of 78-years-to-life imprisonment. The defendants are being tried simultaneously before separate juries in a precisely choreographed judicial drama. At times, both juries are seated to hear the same testimony. At other times, dictated by the presentation of evidence, only one jury is present in the courtroom. As reported by the New York Times, José Sucuzhañay and his brother, Romel, visiting from Ecuador, were attacked at 3 a.m. on December 7, 2008 in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn because Scott and Phoenix “didn’t like the way they looked.” Prosecutor Josh Hanshaft, referring to Phoenix who allegedly wielded the bat, told the juries, “He didn’t like that they were Hispanic. From his eyes, it appeared they were a gay couple, a way of life he didn’t like and wasn’t going to tolerate.” In reality, both men were heterosexual. The Latino brothers had been drinking at parties in the neighborhood and were tipsy enough that they uninhibitedly hugged each other for support and warmth on a bitterly old night as they walked along. The attackers, who had also been partying that night, set upon them, yelling “faggot ass niggers” and “fucking Spanish,” from Phoenix’s red SUV. The prosecution believe that both assailants acted in concert to effect their victim’s death. Scott, Hanshaft said, emerged from the auto and smashed a beer bottle over José’s head. He then charged Romel with the deadly shards of broken glass, slashing at his neck. Phoenix took the bat, swinging it “high above his head,” and struck Sucuzhañay “over and over and over again,” Hanshaft said. “He came back with the bat and hit him two to three times on the head, cracking his skull wide open.” A Brooklyn cabbie at the scene witnessed the attack well enough to capture the license plate of the red SUV, but then had to cover his eyes with his hands, unable to watch the coup de grâce delivered by Phoenix. As reported by Chelsea Now, taxi driver Davi Almonte, speaking through an interpreter, told the court, “I didn’t want to see the head explode when it was hit. I could hear the impact [of the bat crushing his skull].” According to NY1, in testimony on the trial’s second day, Demetrius Nathaniels, cousin of Keith Phoenix, heard the bones cracking as Phoenix bludgeoned Sucuzhañay with the bat on his head, back, side and ribs. A coroner’s report confirmed that José died of a fractured skull from blunt force trauma. Romel, only superficially injured by Scott’s assault, was left stunned, nearly catatonic by the body of his brother who lay in a massive pool of blood, and had to be led away by police responding to the alarm raised by witnesses. The alleged killers sped from the scene. A toll booth video capture of the red SUV on the Triborough Bridge clearly shows Phoenix laughing and smiling barely 19 minutes after the fatal attack. Sucuzhañay was left brain dead, and placed on a ventilator at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens where he finally succumbed on December 12. An outpouring of grief and rage followed news of the murder, both in New York and in Sucuzhañay’s native Ecuador where the slain immigrant was given a near-state funeral attended by hundreds. New York Gay and Latino advocacy groups organized protests and vigils, while city officials roundly condemned the brutal killing. Philip J. Smallman, attorney for Phoenix, summed up the consensus of all concerned with events of December 7: “Does anything good happen at 3 o’clock on a Sunday morning in 30-degree weather, with people with bellies full of booze?” he asked. The Brooklyn trial is expected to last for a number of weeks.
Claremore, OK – A 24-year-old gay college student was beaten late last month by three men screaming anti-gay slurs as he took out the trash at his apartment complex. Phillip Nelson, an out and open gay man, was jumped and thrashed in the quiet town of Claremore, approximately a half hour drive north of Tulsa. Investigators have basically blown off the incident, leaving Nelson emotionally wounded in addition to his physical injuries (see photo at left). EDGE reports that Nelson is struggling to cope with the combination of brutal attack and police indifference to a hate crime against him. “I keep calling them and leaving voice mails but I never hear anything back,” Nelson said during an EDGE interview. “No one ever returns my calls, which has me wondering if they’re kind of trying to let this thing die out and go away, or if they are going to do anything about it.” Media coverage outside the gay blogosphere has been sparce. Besides the EDGE report, which according to Michael Lavers grew from a tip given by one of their readers, only one other story has appeared in the news media. Oklahoma lawmakers aver that laws protecting LGBT people are not needed in their state, and in a notorious move by State Senator Steve Russell, legislation has been introduced to circumvent the James Bryd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, signed into law by President Obama in October 2009. The Oklahoma House of Representatives has not yet voted on the bill, which passed the State Senate last month. Nelson’s case is a clear reason why protection statutes for LGBT Oklahomans is urgently needed. Nelson’s three attackers who remain unapprehended by local police as of this writing, assaulted him while screaming “You are going to die!” and “Faggot!” leaving him with multiple bruises and cuts on his face and over his body. Days later, his antagonists broke into Nelson’s apartment and scrawled “Fag” on the walls. Though Nelson reported the beating to Claremore police, no police report of the attack was filed until Nelson called in law enforcement for the break-in. Then, in what may have been an attempt to cover their tracks, the police insisted that Nelson file separate reports on both crimes. The whole ordeal has shaken Nelson, but as he told EDGE, he has had to face homophobia all his young life. “I’ve been called names all my life, even by my family members; and after a while I learned to get numb from it,” he said. “I just got numb from a lot of things. I’m happy with myself and that’s all that matters.” LGBT Oklahomans grow tough in the Sooner State. They have to.
Lakeland, FL – A man has been arrested Saturday for the murder of his daughter’s lesbian lover whose lifeless body was found in a foreclosed home. Real estate agents discovered the body of 24-year-old Courtney Bright last Thursday as they opened the property to show it to a prospective buyer. The Polk County Coroner reports that the victim had been strangled to death on Tuesday or Wednesday. Jerry Lee Seger, 40, has been charged with first-degree murder and is being held in the Polk County jail without bond, according to My Fox Tampa Bay. Bright had been in a romantic relationship with Seger’s 23-year-old daughter, Ashley Dunn, for approximately three years. Dunn had been arrested Tuesday of last week for dealing in stolen property on a Jackson County warrant. As has been the case in other Polk County LGBT murders, notably the brutal slaying of Ryan Keith Skipper in 2007, the Polk County Sheriff’s Department is constructing a non-gay-related scenario for the crime. Polk County, a largely rural locale situated between Tampa and Orlando in the center of the state, is notorious for poor treatment of its LGBT residents. Revenge against Bright for his daughter’s arrest is the story being floated to the press. Bright’s friend, Bobbi Johnson, however, isn’t buying the Sheriff’s theory. Johnson told My Fox Tampa reporter Alcides Segui, that Bright was like a daughter to her. “She was a sweetheart. She would do anything in the world for you,” she said. “I know [Seger] was upset because Ashely was arrested,” Johnson said. “That’s not why he killed her. He killed her because they were lesbians.” The Sheriff’s Department theory relies on hearsay from a friend of Seger’s, much like their 2007 theory that Skipper was killed on a lonely Wahneta, FL road because of hearsay reports about drugs and a check-kiting scheme that was later totally debunked, but too late to keep the young man’s character from being besmirched in the press, and also too late to prevent the story from going national. Skipper’s murderers, Joseph “Smiley” Bearden and William “Bill Bill” Brown were found guilty and are serving their sentences with no hope of parole. Veteran Florida LGBT activists and allies familiar with the Skipper case are watching the Bright murder case closely for signs of the same anti-gay spin from the local authorities. Scott Hall, founder of the South Florida-based Gay American Heroes Foundation, says, “We must hold those who attack and murder us responsible and call it what it is… a hate crime!”
Memphis, TN – A federal judge in Memphis has ruled for a mistrial in the case of former Memphis Police Officer Bridges McRae, on trial for violating Duanna Johnson’s civil rights. Memphis LGBT advocates are calling the decision “a failure of the justice system,” according to myeyewitnessnews.com. Johnson, a transgender woman of color, was repeatedly punched and beaten by McRae with handcuffs wrapped around his knuckles and pepper-sprayed as she was being processed for a prostitution charge at a Memphis police station on February 12, 2008. The beating was captured on a police surveillance tape, and reaction to the video prompted an immediate investigation resulting in the firing of McRae and a second officer, James Swain. Johnson had filed suit against the city on the basis of the videotape and the testimony of witnesses who declared that the brutal beating was unprovoked. Nine months later, as the New York Times reports, Duanna Johnson was shot to death with a bullet to the head on the night of November 9, 2008. Johnson’s murder, which remains unsolved, prompted intense scrutiny on the original beating case, and charges were filed in federal court for violation of the transwoman’s civil rights. Besides the controversial videotape of her beating, five witnesses testified in court that the attack on the 6’5″ 250 lb. Black transwoman was wanton, there being no reason for it in her behavior. Will Batts of the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Center, who had watched the surveillance tape repeatedly, said to myeyewitnessnews.com, “[The beating] looked to be unprovoked. It looked to be excessive on the part of the police officer. It looked to be just an attack on someone in a police station with other people standing around. And it was just incredibly violent.” McRae’s attorney argued that his client was simply exercising necessary force to subdue Johnson, blaming her for resisting arrest. Eleven jurors were convinced of McRae’s guilt. One was not, however, and after the jury deadlocked, the judge declared the mistrial. The Memphis LGBT community refused to take the news lying down. A rally in protest of the judge’s ruling will take place April 20 in front of the Federal Courthouse. “Would it have been different if Duanna were not transgendered,” Batts asked in a press interview. “If it were just an average person from the suburbs that happened to be sitting in that jail room on that day and had this kind of response from the police, would the decision be different?” Both the prosecution and the defense are to meet with the judge to determine a date for a new trial for McRae.
Queens, NY – the NY Daily News reports that police in Las Vegas, Nevada have arrested the man wanted in the strangulation murder of transgender woman Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar. Rahseen Everett, 29, (pictured at left in custody) allegedly strangled Ms. Gonzalez-Andujar in her Queens apartment. She was also 29 years of age. Everett is an ex-convict who is wanted in connection with two attempted murders in Massachusetts. After the alleged murder in Queens, Everett fled to Las Vegas, hiding out with an unidentified acquaintance. Police have not released details of the arrest, or how the suspect was traced to Nevada. Ms. Gonzalez-Andujar’s murder has angered and frightened members of the New York LGBT community, who are calling for the fullest possible penalty for her murderer. According to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, A memorial service has been announced for her at the Metropolitan Community Church of Manhattan on April 24 from 2 pm to 3 pm. The address is 446 W. 36th Street (between 9th & 10th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan). A candlelight vigil is also planned in front of Ms. Gonzalez-Andujar’s Glendale Queens home on the same date, from 4 pm to 5 pm. Stefanie Rivera, representing the SLP Collective, said, “We are still outraged at the hatred, transphobia and violence that persist to lead to the untimely deaths of more and more transgender and gender nonconforming people, particularly young transgender women of color.” She pledged to combat the alarming trend of violence against all members of the sexual minority. On its web site, the SLP Collective says its mission is “to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine their gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination, or violence. SRLP is a collective organization founded on the understanding that gender self-determination is inextricably intertwined with racial, social and economic justice. Therefore, we seek to increase the political voice and visibility of low-income people and people of color who are transgender, intersex, or gender non-conforming.” Ms. Gonzalez-Andujar’s body was found on March 30 some days after her death sprawled naked on her bed by a landlord who was prompted to open her apartment door by concerned friends. One of those friends, Barbara Vega, told the News, “Everything in the apartment was destroyed. All her Marilyn Monroe pictures were destroyed.”