Video: From Democracy Now on April 27, 2012

On May 2, the Hennepin County (Minnesota) District Attorney Mike Freeman announced that just as jury selection for Chrishaun (‘CeCe’) McDonald’s trial was about to be completed, a plea arrangement was reached in which she pleaded guilty to second degree manslaughter and is expected to be sentenced to 41 months in prison for fatally stabbing Dean Schmitz.  Had she been convicted of second degree murder, she was facing up to a term of 150 months.  Sentencing is scheduled for June 4.

Leaving aside the earlier claims in the video that McDonald was being charged with two counts of second degree murder (beats me), some history of the case is in order.  And if McDonald killed Schmitz in self-defense, why did she accept the plea deal, and assumedly allocute to her guilt?

Well, let’s see what she and her defense attorney were up against.

Fightbacknews.org reported that at pre-trial evidentiary hearings on April 27, 2012:

Judge Moreno sustained a motion from the prosecution to exclude the deceased’s criminal record, which includes three assault convictions. Schmitz was convicted of assaulting his ex-girlfriend, his ex-girlfriend’s 14-year old daughter and his ex-girlfriend’s father. Judge Moreno has yet to rule whether the swastika tattoo on the deceased’s chest will be admitted into the trial, either in photos or testimony. Judge Moreno refused to approve the defense’s request for expert witness to testify about climate of violence transgender people navigate in Minneapolis and nationally. He has yet to rule on whether an expert witness can educate the jury about what the word “transgender**” means.

I never did discover how the judge ruled on that last issue, but continuing:

McDonald’s defense argued that the deceased’s prior assault convictions, the swastika tattoo and expert testimony about the incredibly disproportionate level of violence transgender people face provides crucial context to the case by demonstrating that McDonald had reason to fear for her life on June 5, 2011. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported in 2010 that “transgender women made up 44% of the 27 hate murders in the United States, while representing only 11% of total survivors and victims.

Also noteworthy, in the April 30 continuation of the pre-trial hearing, the prosecution stated that no weapon had been recovered from the scene on the night of June 5 and that it remains unclear what the weapon* that caused the deceased’s fatal wound was.

Remembering that CeCe was arrested in June of 2011, let’s look at some of  her jail history.

According to the Twin Cities Daily Planet, on September 11, 2011, McDonald was deemed to be no threat to the community by Judge Daniel C. Moreno who ordered her bail lowered from $150,000 to $75,000.

The bail reduction comes on the heels of Ms. McDonald’s release from solitary confinement last Wednesday. Ms. McDonald spent the first month after her arrest in solitary confinement against her wishes, although jail officials claimed that the classification was for her own protection as a transgender woman. On September 15 she was returned to solitary confinement, with no explanation offered by the jail. After several days of phone calls to the jail from supporters, Ms. McDonald was returned to the psychiatric ward on September 21st. Ms. McDonald has consistently stated that she feels safer housed with other people, though she continues to be held in the male unit despite having repeatedly asserted her desire to be housed with other women.

Have I got this right?  Her solitary confinement was for her own protection as a transgendered woman…but she was held in the male unit of the jail. But Hennepin County DA Freeman offers us his take on the plea deal:

What makes it tragic is one man is dead and another person will spend 41 months in jail. McDonald, a 23-year-old transgender African-American woman, was walking with a group of friends about midnight when a group standing outside the Schooner Bar in South Minneapolis, began shouting racial and sexual insults. McDonald and her friends confronted Schmitz and his friends and a woman smashed a glass into McDonald’s face, cutting her.

A witness saw Schmitz pull McDonald away from the resulting melee and then say, “you stabbed me,” and McDonald said she did. McDonald walked away toward the Cub Foods parking lot and threw away the scissors she was carrying.

In the hearing before Hennepin County District Court Judge Daniel Moreno Wednesday, McDonald said she was giving up the right to use a defense that her stabbing of Schmitz was either an accident or in self-defense. She also acknowledged that she saw that Schmitz did not have a weapon of any kind and McDonald admitted she handled the scissors in an unreasonable way. (Sorry for the bold; for some reason that phrase made my brain freeze.)

Judge Moreno asked McDonald how the scissors wound up in Schmitz’s chest and she said that he pulled her towards himself.

McDonald also no longer claims, as she had in some prior statements, that someone else stabbed Schmitz*.

Er…Mr. DA; no charges for she of the beer glass smashing even?  But you just said that, “The role of prosecutors is to examine the facts provided by police investigators and determine if there is sufficient admissible evidence to bring a charge. Gender, race, sexual orientation and class are not part of the decision-making process”, yada yada…

From glaad.org:

Dr. Jillian T. Weiss, Professor of Law and Society at Ramapo College and Bilerico Project contributor wrote:

‘We must be outraged by this. When we lose our sense of outrage is when we lose our humanity.

The appearance of justice is as important as justice itself. When George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, he was presumed by the police to have had the right to self-defense, to stand his ground. We, as a country, reacted against this apparent denial of justice, despite the law’s backing of the police. We wanted to see justice being done. Here, in the case of CeCe McDonald, the law also appeared to back law enforcement’s account, and Ms. McDonald’s right to self-defense was put on the ropes by the judge after several evidentiary rulings went against her. These rulings mean the jury would never hear the whole story. They would have seen the bloody T-shirt of the victim, and heard about Ms. McDonald’s bad check and witnesses who claimed she committed intentional murder, but they wouldn’t see the victim’s swastika, they wouldn’t hear about his assaults on his girlfriend, her 14-year old daughter and her father. The jury wouln’t (sic) hear about what transgender people have to face on the streets. They wouldn’t hear about the theft convictions of the witnesses against her and get to question the credibility of such witnesses.

Ms. McDonald has survived a murderous, racist and transphobic attack, only to find herself another kind of victim.’

Ashley Love at Transforming Media expressed her anger at the bigots at the center of the incident, but added:

Words can’t express how upset I am with how CeCe McDonald is being manipulated to plead guilty when she was the real victim.

However, words *can* express how I feel that many racial justice groups, like the NAACP & SPLC, and national “LGB.T.” groups have remained silent or didn’t put their full weight behind this injustice — those words are: Rage, Betrayal, Transphobia, Hypocrisy, Classism… and a few more…

If CeCe was a black non-transsexual boy, like Trayvon Martin, would the NAACP have taken real action?

If CeCe was a blue eyed, blond haired gay male like Matthew Shepard, would the HRC or NGLTF have pulled all their resources to stand up for her?

* The Minneapolis StarTribune reported on July 11, 2011, that a ‘second weapon’ had been found; police were testing a knife for DNA; dunno where that evidence may have led.

** In December of 2010, My.fdl’s Margaret published her great diary, “Why the ‘T’ is also Important’; she explained a lot about being ‘transgendered’.  Along the way, she taught me that I’d been pretty ignorant about the subject.

KCTS aired this poignant 2012 documentary about Sherri’s life journey as transgendered: “I’m Not Les: A Transgender Story”.