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Man guilty of killing transgender woman in hate crime trial over gender identity

In combo of undated selfie images provided courtesy of the Dime Doe family, show Dime Doe, a Black transgender woman.
Courtesy Dime Doe Family via AP
In combo of undated selfie images provided courtesy of the Dime Doe family, show Dime Doe, a Black transgender woman.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A South Carolina man was found guilty Friday of killing a Black transgender woman in the nation's first federal trial over a hate crime based on gender identity.

After deliberating for roughly four hours, jurors convicted Daqua Lameek Ritter of a hate crime for the murder of Dime Doe in 2019. Ritter was also found guilty of using a firearm in connection with the fatal shooting and obstructing justice.

A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled. Ritter faces a maximum of life imprisonment without parole.

"This case stands as a testament to our committed effort to fight violence that is targeted against those who may identify as a member of the opposite sex, for their sexual orientation or for any other protected characteristics," Brook Andrews, an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of South Carolina, told reporters after the verdict.

While federal officials have previously prosecuted hate crimes based on gender identity, the cases never reached trial. A Mississippi man received a 49-year prison sentence in 2017 as part of a plea deal after he admitted to killing a 17-year-old transgender woman.

The four-day trial over Doe's killing centered on the secret sexual relationship between her and Ritter, the latter of whom had grown agitated by the exposure of their affair in the small town of Allendale, according to witness testimony and text messages obtained by the FBI. Prosecutors accused Ritter of shooting Doe three times with a .22 caliber handgun to prevent further revelation of his involvement with a transgender woman.

Prosecutors presented police interviews in which Ritter said he did not see Doe the day she died. But body camera video from a traffic stop of Doe showed Ritter's distinctive left wrist tattoo on a person in the passenger seat hours before police found her slumped in the car, parked in a driveway.

Defense lawyer Lindsey Vann argued at trial that no physical evidence pointed to Ritter. State law enforcement never processed a gunshot residue test that he took voluntarily, she said, and the pair's intimate relationship and frequent car rides made it no surprise that Ritter would have been with her.

Doe's close friends testified that it was no secret in Allendale that she had begun her social transition as a woman shortly after graduating high school. She started dressing in skirts, getting her nails done and wearing extensions. She and her friends discussed boys they were seeing — including Ritter, whom she met during one of his many summertime visits from New York to stay with family.

But text messages obtained by the FBI suggested that Ritter sought to keep their relationship under wraps as much as possible, prosecutors said. He reminded her to delete their communications from her phone, and hundreds of texts sent in the month before her death were removed.

Shortly before Doe's death, their exchanges grew tense. In one message from July 29, 2019, she complained that Ritter did not reciprocate her generosity. He replied that he thought they had an understanding that she didn't need the "extra stuff."

He also told her that Delasia Green, his main girlfriend at the time, had insulted him with a homophobic slur after learning of the affair. In a July 31 text, Doe said she felt used and Ritter should never have let Green find out about them.

Ritter's defense attorneys said the sampling represented only a "snapshot" of their messages. They pointed to other exchanges where Doe encouraged Ritter, or where he thanked her for one of her many kindnesses.

Witnesses offered other damaging testimony.

On the day Doe died, a group of friends saw Ritter ride away in a silver car with tinted windows — a vehicle that Ritter's acquaintance Kordell Jenkins said he had seen Doe drive previously. When Ritter returned several hours later, Jenkins said, he wore a new outfit and appeared "on edge."

The friends built a fire in a barrel to smoke out the mosquitoes on that buggy summer day, and Ritter emptied his book bag into it, Jenkins testified. He said he couldn't see the contents but assumed they were items Ritter no longer wanted, possibly the clothes he wore earlier.

The two ran into ran into each other the following day, Jenkins said, and he could see the silver handle of a small firearm sticking out from Ritter's waistline. He said Ritter asked him to "get it gone."

Defense attorneys suggested that Jenkins fabricated the story to please prosecutors and argued it was preposterous to think Ritter would ask someone he barely knew to dispose of a murder weapon. They said Ritter's friends gave conflicting accounts about details like the purported burning of his clothes while facing the threat of prosecution if they failed to cooperate.

With Allendale abuzz with rumors that Ritter killed Doe, he began behaving uncharacteristically, according to witness testimony.

Green said that when he showed up days later at her cousin's house in Columbia, he was dirty, smelly and couldn't stop pacing. Her cousin's boyfriend gave Ritter a ride to the bus stop. Before he left, Green asked him if he had killed Doe.

"He dropped his head and gave me a little smirk," Green said.

Ritter monitored the fallout from New York, FBI Special Agent Clay Trippi said, citing Facebook messages with another friend, Xavier Pinckney. On Aug. 11, Pinckney told Ritter that nobody was "really talking." But by Aug. 14, Pinckney was warning Ritter to stay away from Allendale because he had been visited by state police. Somebody was "snitching," he later said.

Pinckney faces charges of obstructing justice. Federal officials allege he gave false and misleading statements to investigators.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.