A laborer who became just the second person in the nation to be convicted of a hate crime in a transgender slaying drew a 25-year sentence Tuesday for shooting to death a Syracuse woman.
Dwight DeLee, 20, showed no emotion when a judge imposed the maximum penalty for manslaughter as a hate crime in the November slaying of Moses Lateisha Green, 22. Born male, Green began living as a woman at 16 and dressed frequently in women's clothing.
"I'm no monster, I'm a young human being," DeLee said, offering an apology to Green's family while insisting he didn't kill her.
Acquitted of murder as a hate crime, he faced a minimum of 10 years in prison. The manslaughter conviction means he intended to injure, not kill, someone because of anti-gay bias when he fired a .22-caliber rifle once into a car where Green was sitting outside a house party with her brother and a friend.
Green, born Moses Cannon, was "the sweetest person you ever met" and well-loved by a family that accepted her for who she was "right from the beginning," said her father, Albert Cannon. He added that he would accept DeLee's apology "if it came from his heart, but I don't think it did."
The only other hate crime conviction in the slaying of a transgendered person was in May, when a jury in Colorado convicted Allen Andrade of beating 18-year-old Angie Zapata to death with a fire extinguisher after discovering she was biologically male.
In July, the U.S. Senate 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, 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.
"More than one transgender person is killed per month in this country," said Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York. "Many go unnoticed or largely unnoticed."
Syracuse police are investigating whether Johnny Gaston Sr., the father of two prosecution witnesses in DeLee's trial, was shot in retaliation for their testimony. Gaston was hit in the neck and critically wounded five days after the trial ended on July 17. He has since recovered.
On the witness stand, his son and daughter both recanted statements they gave to police incriminating DeLee. During the trial, the judge warned DeLee there would be serious consequences if he was linked to reported threats being made against prosecution witnesses.
Defense attorney Clarence Johnson denied prosecution claims that DeLee hated homosexuals and argued there was no evidence he had a history of anti-gay bias before the shooting. It was not immediately known if an appeal is planned.
Several witnesses said they heard DeLee refer to Green as a "fa****" just before Green was shot. But Johnson questioned their reliability, pointing out the shooting happened on a darkened street with a crowd of people around and that all the witnesses had been drinking alcohol, some heavily.