Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Demands for Justice in Slaying of Gay Teen in Puerto Rico

San Juan, Puerto Rico – The Associated Press reports this evening that in response to mounting pressure from local LGBT activists and the large and vocal Puerto Rican communities in New York and Chicago, the FBI and the United States Attorney’s Office is seriously considering entering the effort to investigate and prosecute Jorge Steven López Mercado’s alleged killer as a hate crime under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act, signed into law last month by President Barack Obama.  Two members of Congress from New York of Puerto Rican descent, U.S. Representative José E. Serrano and U.S. Representative Nydia Velasquez, have both added their influence to bring the U.S. Justice Department into the case.  Puerto Rican police officials have signaled their willingness to proceed with the investigation as a possible anti-LGBT hate crime, as well.  A prosecutor who interviewed Juan Antonio Martínez Matos, the alleged murderer, said that he confessed to have stabbed 19-year-old López Mercado after he discovered that he had solicited sex from a male and not a female.  The prosecutor, José Bermudez Santos, remarked to a local newspaper that  Matos said he met his victim Thursday night in a section known for prostitution.  The confessed killer went on to say that López Mercado was wearing a dress at the time.  “He [Matos] has a deep-seated rage,” Santos went on to say.  Matos was charged on Wednesday with first-degree murder and weapons violations, and then jailed with a $4 million bond.  Should he be convicted, he would likely face life in prison without hope of parole.  Puerto Rican LGBT advocates have been quick to bring the focus of media back to the heinous nature of the crime, rather than the alleged descriptions of the victim.  They insist that no one lose sight of the fact that a horrific crime has been committed against a well-known member of their community, a young person who volunteered for HIV prevention and for gay rights.  Local LGBT rights activist, Pedro Julio Serrano, who represents the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Puerto Rico, said that there had been more than 10 anti-LGBT murders on the island in the last seven years that should have been investigated as hate crimes.  While there is a statute on the books concerning hate crimes already, enacted into law in 2002, sexual orientation has never been permitted as a protected category.  Should the murder of López Mercado be prosecuted as a bias-related crime, it will be a first in Puerto Rican history.  “The people of Puerto Rico are very inclusive and accepting of differences,” Serrano remarked to the AP. “I think these kinds of crimes show the ugly side of homophobia, but it’s a minority of people that are willing to be so violent in expressing their prejudice.”  LGBT historians note that Puerto Rico has a grim heritage of homophobic and transphobic crimes.  According to the Enquirer-Herald, the island was terrorized in the 1980’s by serial killer Angel Colón Maldonado, called “The Angel of the Bachelors,” for slaying 27 gay men before his capture.  Maldonado is serving life in prison.  These crimes notwithstanding, Puerto Rico also has shown itself to be more inclusive and welcoming of LGBT people than some other Caribbean islands, like Jamaica, where queer folk are still deeply closeted.  Serrano announced a protest at the Capitol in San Juan on Thursday.  Rallies and memorial gatherings are planned on the mainland in Dallas, Chicago and New York this weekend.

November 19, 2009 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Blame the victim, Decapitation and dismemberment, gay men, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, immolation, Latino and Latina Americans, Law and Order, Legislation, Matthew Shepard Act, Media Issues, multiple homicide, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Protests and Demonstrations, Puerto Rico, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, stabbings, Torture and Mutilation, trans-panic defense, transgender persons, transphobia, U.S. House of Representatives | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Demands for Justice in Slaying of Gay Teen in Puerto Rico

Suspect Arrested in Puerto Rican Gay Teen Hate Murder Case

Jorge Steven López Mercado

San Juan, Puerto Rico – The Associated Press is reporting that the arrested suspect in Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado’s grisly murder is claiming the infamous “gay panic” defense to besmirch the character of the victim, and appeal to anti-gay machismo.  Regional Police Director Hector Agosto said, “This was a ruthless crime.  Whoever did this just wanted to make the person disappear.”  Gay rights advocates in the Caribbean United States Territory have carried out a number of memorial events for young Lopez Mercado, as well as protests in the capital, San Juan demanding that police investigate the murder as a bias-related hate crime.  “They are hurt and they are indignant,” gay activist Pedro Julio Serrano said to reporters. “They are calling for justice.”  Local island media are reporting that Juan Antonio Martínez Matos, 26, a father of four, was arrested by authorities for the murder.  Matos is alleging that he was in search of a woman for sex, and when he found out that Lopez Mercado was a gay youth instead of a female, he panicked.  Whether he is speaking under the direction of an attorney is not known at this time, but in any event, the suspect has appardently made the calculation that enough members of the public will buy his account that he will be more likely to receive a lighter sentence, if convicted.  On the mainland, the gay or trans-panic defense has been tried on many occasions in an attempt to cast enough aspersions on the character of the LGBT victim that public opinion will soften toward the defendant.  In recent court cases, such as the trial of Allen Ray Andrade, the murderer of trans Latina Angie Zapata in Greeley, Colorado, the panic defense has fallen flat.  Andrade, who made a similar claim, left both judge and jury unconvinced, and received life in prison without hope of parole.  According to Box Turtle Bulletin, Matos also claimed that Lopez Mercado demanded money from him. Police investigators have allegedly discovered a wig, a burned mattress, burned PVC pipe, and a knife at the suspect’s apartment.  Accounts also say that police found blood stains on the wall of the courtyard of the apartment.  Investigator José J. Bermúdez said to the press that he has no doubt that López’s murder can be prosecuted as a hate crime.  Since the public can easily be prejudiced by media accounts that are both uncritical of a suspect’s allegations about his victim, and unverified as to what actually may (or may not) have been found at a crime scene, the Unfinished Lives Project will pass these details along as currently unsubstantiated reports until properly and fully vetted.  Officials in Puerto Rico are now saying that the mutilated, beheaded and partially burned body of Lopez Mercado was discovered on Friday, November 13 in a wooded area near Cayey, only a few miles from his home in Caguas.  Both the LGBT community in Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican population of New York City have expressed grave concern about the most savage murder of a gay person in Puerto Rico’s history.

November 18, 2009 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Blame the victim, Colorado, Decapitation and dismemberment, gay men, gay panic defense, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, immolation, Latino and Latina Americans, Law and Order, Media Issues, New York, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Politics, Protests and Demonstrations, Puerto Rico, Social Justice Advocacy, stabbings, trans-panic defense, transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Serial Hate Crimes Against LGBTs Up 63% in Colorado

Colorado state sealDenver – In a report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs issued Tuesday, the numbers of anti-LGBT hate crimes in the Centennial State jumped 63% in one year.  Among the 2008 murders of queer folk was the notorious beating-death of 18-year-old Angie Zapata, a transgender Latina living in Greeley.  Allen Ray Andrade, a date, repeatedly bashed Zapata with a home fire extinguisher until she succumbed.  Andrade’s conviction for murder under Colorado’s Hate Crime Law was a landmark moment, demonstrating to the nation how significant hate crime enhancements can be in penalizing fatal bias-related attacks against LGBT people.  Though he used a version of the trans-panic defense to excuse his actions, arguing that Zapata had somehow deserved her death because of “deceiving” him as to her biological gender, Andrade was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.  According to the Denver Daily News, the Colorado Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (COAVP) expressed concern over the 24% spike in the number of offenders, meaning that multiple perpetrators attacked a smaller number of victims during the past year.  This indicates that certain victims of anti-LGBT hate crimes are targeted for violence that unfolds in a spectrum from verbal harassment to physical attack by more than one antagonist.  While this disturbing feature of homophobic and transphobic violence had been suspected by gay rights activists, this report in Colorado is the first to confirm their fears.  The percentage of victims also rose significantly during 2008.  While the nationwide average rise in victims of harassment, bashing, and murder was 2%, the Colorado numbers moved up a full 8%.  Added to the increases of reported violent attacks against LGBT people in Minnesota, Michigan, California, and Tennessee, the Colorado hate crimes statistics contribute to a growing sense that a full-scale national trend of increasing harm against members of the sexual minority is in the offing.

June 18, 2009 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, Blame the victim, Bludgeoning, California, Colorado, harassment, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, Law and Order, Michigan, Minnesota, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Social Justice Advocacy, Tennessee, trans-panic defense, transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Serial Hate Crimes Against LGBTs Up 63% in Colorado

Epidemic of Transphobic Violence Breaks Out in Memphis Again

 

Terron Taylor, accused of shooting transwoman Kelvin Denton

Terron Taylor, accused of shooting transwoman Kelvin Denton

Memphis, TN – For the fifth time since 2006, a transgender woman of color has been shot in the streets of Memphis, Tennessee on May 27.  Authorities report that Kelvin Denton, an African American transitioning from male to female, was shot in the neck and face by an assailant who did not like the way she presented her gender identity.  Ms. Denton is in critical condition as of this writing.  After being shot, Ms. Denton managed to run from the scene of the shooting at the Peppertree Apartments, until finally collapsing near the Whitehaven Community Center.  Police arrested Terron Taylor for the crime, who said that he felt he had been “misled” about the gender identity of his victim.  Such early testimony indicates that the defendant will be using some version of the trans-panic defense to justify his violent attack on Ms. Denton.  Taylor is being held on $500,000 bond in Shelby County on two charges: attempted second degree murder and using a firearm to commit a felony.  The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition is urging the swift and aggressive prosecution of Taylor for the crime.  Tiffany Berry was shot and killed in Memphis in 2006, as well as Ebony Whitaker and Duanna Johnson in 2008.  Leeneshia Edwards was also shot in 2008, but survived.   The ferocity of these attacks calls for renewed action on the part of the Metro Memphis authorities to put a stop to the violence against transgender people, especially trans people of color.

June 2, 2009 Posted by | Blame the victim, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, trans-panic defense | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Murdered Trans-teen Gwen Araujo Vindicated by CA Appeal Court Ruling

gwen araujo B&WNewark, CA, May 13, 2009 – A California state court of appeal upheld the second degree murder convictions of two young East Bay men for their part in the strangling, beating, and murder of 17 year old male-to-female transgender Latina Gwen Amber Rose Araujo in 2002.  Jose Merel and Michael Magidson had appealed their convictions on the grounds that the Alameda County trial judge had not defined the crimes properly to the jury at the time of the original trial in 2005, and that there had not been sufficient evidence for second degree murder convictions.  The appeal court ruled 3-0 against the petition of the defendants, who will continue to serve out their 15-year sentences for the grisly murder. 

 The 2002 Araujo case drew national attention to the plight of transgender people in the United States, especially transgender people of color.  Araujo, born biologically male and originally known as Eddie, had transitioned to being female by the time of the assault.  After she died, her mother legally changed her name to Gwen as a sign of love and respect.  Her killers, who knew her as “Lida” had known her for months, and Gwen believed they were fast friends.  Both Merel and Magidson had sex with Araujo orally and anally.  According to their defense, she had not revealed her biological identity to them.  When her biological maleness was discovered, the defense went on to contend, the men attacked Araujo “in the heat of the moment,” and therefore deserved convictions for a lesser charge of manslaughter instead of murder.  The prosecution successfully argued against this version of the “trans-panic defense,” and secured the  murder convictions against them.  Two other defendants in the case, Jaron Nabors and Jason Cazares pled guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to 11 and 6 years respectively.  They have not sought to challenge their convictions.

The Araujo case sharpened the national debate on the trans-panic defense.  The outcome of the 2002 trial went a long way toward refuting the once widely held notion that trans people somehow brought on attacks against themselves.  As Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center noted to reporters,the ruling of the court of appeal definitively rejected the claim that the murder of a young woman like Gwen should be reduced to a lesser charge just because she was transgender.  “We are thankful that the Court of Appeal saw through this blatant prejudice, and upheld the convictions of Gwen’s killers,” she said.

May 19, 2009 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Media Issues, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Racism, Strangulation, trans-panic defense, transphobia | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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