Dwight DeLee, who was accused of a hate crime in the murder of 22-year-old Lateisha Green, has been found guilty in Onondaga County Court. The jury came back with a verdict just before 11:00 AM.
The 20-year-old DeLee has been convicted of first degree manslaughter in a hate crime and criminal possession of a weapon. With the manslaughter conviction, the jury chose not to convict DeLee of the more serious charge of second degree murder as a hate crime.
DeLee faces additional prison time because he was convicted of a hate crime. He will receive a minimum of ten years and a maximum of 25 years in prison on the first degree manslaughter conviction alone. He becomes just the second person in the U.S. convicted of a hate crime that involved a transgender victim.
Green, who was born Moses Cannon but began living as a woman at age 16, frequently dressed in women's clothing but was wearing jeans and a T-shirt the night she was killed.
During three days of testimony, DeLee's attorney, Clarence Johnson, denied prosecution claims that his client hated homosexuals. Jackson contended prosecutors presented no evidence showing DeLee had a history of anti-gay bias before the shooting.
But several witnesses said they heard DeLee refer to Green as a "fa****" just before Green was shot with a .22-caliber rifle while sitting in a parked car outside the party. But Johnson noted that other witnesses attributed the slur to others at the party.
The U.S. Senate Thursday approved legislation to extend current federal hate crimes protections to gays and other groups. The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, named after the gay Wyoming college student murdered in 1998, was proposed as an amendment to a $680 billion bill to approve defense programs.
The bill would expand federal hate crimes - currently defined as those motivated by race, color, national origin or religion - to include gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. The House passed a similar hate crimes bill in April.
The jury delivered its verdict after deliberating for about six hours over two days. Sentencing is scheduled for August 18. DeLee's attorney declined to comment to Action News following the verdict.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Recap of Thursday's coverage:
Prosecutors at an upstate New York hate crime murder trial failed to prove that a 20-year-old man killed a transgendered woman out of hatred for gay people, or even that he was the gunman, a defense attorney argued Thursday.
The case against Dwight DeLee went to an Onondaga County Court jury early Thursday afternoon after jurors heard closing statements and received legal instructions from the judge. The jury ended its deliberations for the day just after 5 p.m.
DeLee is charged with second-degree murder as a hate crime in the slaying of 22-year-old Lateisha Green, who was born Moses Cannon but began living as a woman at age 16, outside a Syracuse house party.
Judge William Walsh told the jury that it could also consider convicting DeLee of manslaughter as a hate crime, as well as murder or manslaughter without the hate crime element.
"It's not true. He doesn't hate homosexuals. It's not in the evidence that he has that type of history at all," said defense attorney Clarence Johnson as he asked the jury to acquit DeLee.
During the three-day trial, several witnesses said they heard DeLee refer to Green as a "fa****" just before Green was shot with a .22-caliber rifle while sitting in a parked car last November. But Johnson noted that other witnesses attributed the slur to others at the party.
"Just because there were some drunk, obnoxious, loud and violent people running their mouths, that doesn't mean that's Dwight DeLee's state of mind," he said.
Although she frequently dressed in women's clothing, Green was wearing jeans and a T-shirt the night she was killed.
Seven prosecution witnesses identified DeLee as the gunman, but Johnson questioned the reliability of their testimony, noting that the shooting happened on a darkened street with a crowd of people around.
He also noted that the prosecution witnesses admitted they had been drinking beer and liquor for most of the day, and that several were "quite intoxicated."
"That would certainly compromise their ability to see, hear and remember," he told the jury of six men and six women.
Johnson also reminded jurors that neither DeLee's fingerprints nor his DNA was found on the gun and that a police weapons expert who tested the gun could not conclusively link it to the bullet recovered from Green's body.
Assistant District Attorney Matthew Doran acknowledged that there were "variations" in the testimony, but he told jurors, "No one expected this to happen so no one was paying attention to all the little details."
Doran urged the jury to take into account all the testimony and evidence, which he said overwhelmingly indicated DeLee killed Green, and he acted out of anti-gay bias.
"The evidence has given us no other option to explain why the defendant did it," he said. "The despicable, twisted reason Dwight DeLee decided to wipe Moses Cannon from the face of the Earth was because (she) was gay."
Second-degree murder in New York carries a minimum penalty of 15 years to life in prison. Conviction of murder as a hate crime carries a minimum penalty of 20 years to life in prison. The maximum penalty in either case is 25 years to life.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)