Judge dismisses hate crime designation in Dee Dee Dodds murder trial

Deeniquia Dodds, gay news, Washington Blade
Deeniquia ‘Dee Dee’ Dodds was killed on July 4, 2016. (Photo courtesy Facebook)

A D.C. Superior Court judge on Tuesday dismissed the hate crime designation for first degree murder and four other charges against two men currently on trial for the July 4, 2016, shooting death of transgender woman Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds.

In a development expected to raise concern among LGBT activists,
Judge Milton C. Lee granted a motion introduced by one of the prosecutors in
the case calling for dismissal of the hate crime “enhancement” designations
against defendant Monte Johnson, 23.

Lee dismissed the same hate crime enhancement designations against
defendant Jolonta Little, 28, at the request of his attorney, both on grounds
that there was insufficient evidence by prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s
Office to support a hate crime designation.

Under the D.C. criminal code, a “hate crime” is not a crime in and
of itself for which a specific charge can be brought against someone. The
city’s hate crimes statue calls for designating an underlying offense or charge
such as murder, assault, or robbery with a hate crime enhancement, which can
result in a more severe sentence if the individual charged is convicted.

In the case of the Dodds murder, prosecutors designated as hate
crime enhancements for defendants Little and Johnson the charges of felony
murder while armed, two counts of robbery while armed, conspiracy, and assault
with a dangerous weapon.

Prosecutors charged Little and Johnson with 11 other offenses related
to the Dodds murder that were not designated as hate crimes, including
possession of a firearm during a crime of violence and assault with intent to
commit robbery while armed.

William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office,
declined to say why one of the prosecutors asked Judge Lee to dismiss the hate
crime designation for Johnson, saying his office has a policy of not commenting
on specific details trials in progress.

In past cases that haven’t reach the stage of a trial, the U.S.
Attorney’s Office has said it sometimes drops hate crime designations made by
D.C. police when the evidence doesn’t support such a designation.

D.C. attorney Dale Edwin Sanders, who practices criminal law in
D.C. and Virginia, has said prosecutors sometimes prefer not to bring hate
crime designations before juries out of fear that jurors may become confused
over such a designation and might possible find a defendant not guilty for the
underlying charge such as assault or murder.

“I think a lot of prosecutors think it is a cumbersome unnecessary
encumbrance upon their ability to get a conviction on the main crime, whether
it’s robbery or murder or whatever,” Sanders said. “It complicates the case for

LGBT activists have complained in the recent past that the U.S.
Attorney’s office appeared to be unnecessarily reluctant to designate assaults
against LGBT people as hate crimes, even though victims reported being called
anti-LGBT names at the time they were attacked.

Lee’s ruling tossing out the hate crime designations for Little
and Johnson came two days before defense attorneys Kevin Irving, who represents
Johnson, and Brandi Harden, who represents Little, gave emotional closing
arguments attacking the credibility of the prosecutors’ two lead witnesses,
Shareem Hall, 25, and his brother, Cyheme Hall, 23.

Both Halls were initially charged with first degree murder while
armed in connection with the Dodds murder along with Little and Johnson. At the
start of the trial for Little and Johnson earlier this month prosecutors
informed the jury that the Hall brothers pleaded guilty to a charge of second
degree murder and agreed to testify at the trial as cooperating government

Cyheme Hall testified that in the early morning hours of July 4,
2016, he and the other three men made plans to commit robberies for cash in
areas of D.C. where trans women, most of whom were sex workers, congregated. He
said the four men got into a car driven by Little and searched the streets for
possible victims they didn’t expect to offer resistance.

They found their first victim on Eastern Avenue, a man they agreed who was dressed as a woman and who police later said was a trans woman hanging out in an area known for where female trans sex workers congregate. Three of the men jumped out of the car with guns drawn, shoved the woman to the ground and stole $80 from her, Hall testified.

He said a few blocks away on Division Avenue, N.W., they saw
another trans woman they thought would also be an easy target. Hall said he and
Johnson ran out of the car with their guns drawn attacked the woman who
surprised them by fighting back. The woman, later identified as Dee Dee Dodds
grabbed the barrel of Johnson’s gun after he pointed it at her face, Hall

According to Hall, Johnson pulled back and fired his gun, striking
Dodds in the neck. After she fell to the sidewalk bleeding, the two men grabbed
her purse and cell phone and ran away before being picked up by Little and
Shareem Hall, who had remained in Little’s car, a white Pontiac, prosecutors

In dramatic testimony, Hall told the jury the men opened the purse
and it was empty.

“The plan was just to rob a person,” the Washington Post quoted
him as telling the jury. “I was in shock. He shot a person for nothing,” the
Post quoted Hall as saying in referring to Johnson who he identified as the one
who fatally shot Dodds.

A little over two weeks later, in their closing arguments on
Thursday defense attorneys Irving and Harden told the jury the Hall brothers
should be considered untrustworthy, unreliable, and habitual liars interested
only in getting off with a more lenient sentence.

Irving said he client absolutely did not shoot Dodds and pointed out
that police had no proof that a gun found in the police wagon used to take
Johnson from the place where he was arrested in February 2017 to the homicide
office to be questioned was not Johnson’s gun. He disputed claims by police
that Johnson had the gun at the time of his arrest and discarded it in the
police wagon, where he was alone on route to the homicide office.

Irving noted no fingerprints or DNA sample were found on the gun
that could link it to Johnson. He and Harden, Little’s attorney, said the
prosecutors’ case against their clients relied on the weight of the Hall
brothers’ testimony, which the two lawyers said based on lies and should be
completely discounted.

Meanwhile, despite the judge’s ruling dismissing the hate crime
designations for the first degree murder charge and the other offenses Johnson
and Little were charged with, Assistant U.A. Attorney Thomas Saunders, one of
two lead prosecutors in the case, told the jury in the government’s closing
arguments on Thursday morning that Little and Johnson along with the Hall
brothers engaged in a conspiracy to target transgender female sex workers for
robbery on the night of Dodds’ murder.

Without mentioning the words hate crimes, Saunders’ stated
repeatedly to the jury that  the four men, with Johnson playing a
lead role, targeted at least seven trans women for armed robberies in the early
morning hours of July 4, 2016, in three separate locations in D.C.

Saunders reminded the jury of the prosecutors’ disclosure earlier
in the trial that the Hall brothers pleaded guilty to a charge of second degree
murder as part of a plea agreement with the government after admitting their
involvement in the Dodds’ murder.  In his closing arguments on
Thursday Saunders said second degree murder was a serious offense and the Hall
brothers have admitted their involvement in the murder.

He said they should be considered credible witnesses, among other
things, because their accounts of what happened at the scene of the shooting of
Dodds is consistent with two eye witnesses at the scene, one of whom called
police after witnessing the shooting. Although the eye witnesses couldn’t see
the shooter’s face in a clear enough way to identify him directly, they
provided police with details of what they saw that corroborated Cyheme Hall’s
account that Johnson was the shooter, Saunders told the jury.

Published at Sat, 23 Feb 2019 15:48:04 +0000