The First Federal Gender-Based Hate Crime Trial Is Underway Over Killing of Trans Woman

The following contains descriptions of anti-transgender violence.

A South Carolina man is facing murder charges nearly five years after allegedly killing a Black transgender woman — the first time in U.S. history that a federal grand jury will rule on a gender-based hate crime.

Daqua Lameek Ritter, 26, is charged with murder as a hate crime, using a firearm in the commission of a hate crime, and obstruction of justice, according to a press release Wednesday from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of South Carolina. The charges carry maximum combined sentences of life imprisonment plus 25 years, DOJ investigators said in the release. Prosecutors are not currently seeking the death penalty.

In August 2019, Ritter allegedly lured a Black trans woman (referred to in court documents as Dime Doe) — with whom prosecutors say Ritter was having an affair — to a remote area of South Carolina in a car, then shot her to death. In opening arguments this week, prosecutors claimed that Ritter became angry and embarrassed after his girlfriend and others learned of his affair with Doe, and that he killed Doe to “silence” her and prevent rumors from spreading further, as the Associated Press reported. Ritter then allegedly burned his clothes and lied to investigators about his whereabouts at the time of Doe’s death, later fleeing to New York to escape arrest.

The indictment also charges Xavier Pinckney, 24, with obstructing justice for allegedly lying to investigators on Ritter’s behalf. Both men were first charged last year, and Pinkney individually pleaded guilty in October.

Although another man was previously sentenced to 49 years after murdering a trans woman in 2017, Ritter’s case marks the first time a gender-based hate crime will go to trial at the federal level, the AP noted. Because South Carolina is one of only two remaining states still yet to pass its own hate crimes law, only the federal government can pursue Doe’s murder as an anti-trans hate crime, constitutional law professor Kenji Yoshino told NBC this week.

Ritter’s defense attorneys maintain that Ritter was not in the car when Doe was killed, and urged jurors to look past the “sensational” facts of the case. Prosecutors say that Ritter can be identified by a unique tattoo seen in contemporaneous photos, however, and told the jury that text messages will establish a motive.

According to this year’s Trans Murder Monitoring report from advocacy network Transgender Europe, at least 321 trans and gender-diverse people were murdered around the world between October 2022 and September 2023. Nearly all were trans women or transfeminine, roughly half were shot to death, and trans people affected by racism make up 80% of the reported murders. In the U.S., anti-trans hate crimes in general rose by about 40% in 2022, according to an October FBI report.

Friends and family have remembered Doe as a larger-than-life personality who always found a way to keep people laughing. “She was never a sad person. You could barely catch her mad,” one friend recalled in a memorial for the online magazine ZORA months after her death. “She always kept it energetic.”

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