UNITED STATES NEWS

First federal trial for a hate crime based on gender identity starts over trans woman’s killing

Feb 19, 2024, 10:06 PM

The Matthew J. Perry, Jr. Courthouse in Columbia, S.C., is seen on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. The first ...

The Matthew J. Perry, Jr. Courthouse in Columbia, S.C., is seen on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. The first federal trial over a hate crime based on gender identity is set to begin at the courthouse Tuesday, Feb. 20, where Daqua Lameek Ritter faces charges that he killed a Black transgender woman and then fled to New York. (AP Photo/James Pollard)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/James Pollard)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The first federal trial over a hate crime based on gender identity began 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 lured the woman — who is referred to as “Dime Doe” in court documents — into driving to a sparsely populated rural county in South Carolina. Ritter then shot her three times in the head with a .22 caliber handgun after they reached an isolated area near his uncle’s home, according to Ben Garner, an assistant U.S. attorney for the district of South Carolina.

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.

And 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 received a 49-year prison sentence as part of a plea deal after he admitted to killing a 17-year-old transgender woman.

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

During opening arguments, Garner portrayed Ritter as someone working vigilantly to avoid the ridicule he’d face if his secret relationship was exposed. They’d met during his teenage years when he traveled from his grandmother’s Brooklyn home to visit family property in Allendale, South Carolina. The two had been close friends, according to the defense, and were related through Ritter’s aunt and the woman’s uncle.

But Ritter became “enraged” when he learned that one of Doe’s friends knew about their sexual relationship, according to Garner. Ritter threatened to beat her for sharing that information with anyone — something he had repeatedly instructed her not to do, Garner said.

The government has said that Ritter’s girlfriend learned about the affair between Ritter and Doe in the month before the killing. Prosecutors believe the revelation, which they say prompted Ritter’s girlfriend to hurl a homophobic slur, made Ritter “extremely upset.”

Garner cited text messages purporting to show that Ritter complained to Doe about the mockery less than one week before her death.

“He killed her to silence her,” Garner told the jury.

They say that Ritter lied about his whereabouts in an interview with state police later that day. A “nervous” Ritter walked to his uncle’s house about half a mile away from the crime scene and asked for a ride home, according to Garner. Prosecutors say that Ritter enlisted others to help burn his clothes, hide the weapon and mislead police about his location on the day of the murder.

Ritter is said to have been splitting time between South Carolina, where he had a job and driver’s license, and New York, where he lived with family and was eventually arrested.

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 includes video footage taken at a traffic stop around 3 p.m. on the day of Doe’s death that shows Ritter’s “distinctive” left wrist tattoo, but not his face, in the passenger seat of her car.

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 emphasized that the trial is not about their sexual relationship, but whether Ritter killed Doe. Lindsey Vann, one of the defense attorneys, argued Tuesday that no physical evidence points to Ritter as the perpetrator. Notably, Vann said the State Law Enforcement Division never processed a gunshot residue test that Ritter voluntarily took the day of the killing.

The defense has said it is no surprise that Ritter might have been linked to Doe’s car, considering their intimate ties. Further, Vann said the traffic stop footage could have been taken as early as three hours before her death.

The defense added that witnesses’ claims regarding the disposal of evidence are inconsistent. Vann said Ritter’s friends have given conflicting interviews about details like the alleged burning of Ritter’s clothes while facing the threat of federal prosecution if they failed to cooperate.

Any lies that Ritter told investigators were the result of his deep-seated fear of being considered a suspect and adding more fuel to the local gossip about the relationship, Vann said.

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.

___

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.

United States News

Associated Press

Autoworkers union celebrates breakthrough win in Tennessee and takes aim at more plants in the South

DALLAS (AP) — The United Auto Workers’ overwhelming election victory at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee is giving the union hope that it can make broader inroads in the South, the least unionized part of the country. The UAW won a stunning 73% of the vote at VW after losing elections in 2014 and 2019. […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Conditions improve for students shot in Maryland park on ‘senior skip day’

GREENBELT, Md. (AP) — Three of the five youths shot in a suburban Washington, D.C., park during a high school “senior skip day” gathering have been released from the hospital, while the condition of the most seriously injured has improved, authorities said Saturday. Police in Greenbelt, Maryland, are asking the public to share video footage […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

New York lawmakers pass $237 billion budget addressing housing construction and migrants

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York lawmakers passed a $237 billion state budget Saturday that includes plans to spur housing construction and combat unlicensed marijuana stores. The package also includes a raft of other measures ranging from expediting the closure of some state prisons, addressing the recent influx of migrants, and continuing the pandemic-era policy […]

2 hours ago

SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO - DECEMBER 9, 2019: A copy of the record album, 'Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison'...

Associated Press

Record Store Day celebrates indie retail music sellers as they ride vinyl’s popularity wave

Record Store Day, a holiday invented at a gathering of independent record store owners and employees in 2007, will be observed Saturday.

6 hours ago

Associated Press

Former Arkansas governor, US Sen David Pryor dies at 89

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Former Arkansas governor and U.S. Sen. David Pryor, a Democrat who was one of the state’s most beloved political figures and remained active in public service in the state long after he left office, has died. He was 89. Pryor, who went undercover to investigate nursing homes while a congressman, […]

6 hours ago

Associated Press

A rabbi serving 30 years to life in his wife’s contract killing has died, prison officials say

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — The New Jersey rabbi serving a decadeslong sentence in a 1994 murder-for-hire plot targeting his wife has died. Fred Neulander, 82, was pronounced dead shortly after 6 p.m. Wednesday at a hospital in Trenton after he was found unresponsive in his cell in the New Jersey State Prison infirmary, news outlets […]

6 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

...

Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.

First federal trial for a hate crime based on gender identity starts over trans woman’s killing