San Francisco Chronicle

Man guilty in 1st federal trial of hate crime based on gender identity

- By James Pollard

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A South Carolina man was found guilty Friday of killing a Black transgende­r woman after the exposure of their secret sexual relationsh­ip 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.

The four-day trial over Doe's killing centered on the clandestin­e 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.

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.

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.

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.

Although 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.

 ?? James Pollard/Associated Press ?? Daqua Lameek Ritter was found guilty of a federal hate crime Friday in Columbia, S.C., in the murder of Dime Doe in 2019.
James Pollard/Associated Press Daqua Lameek Ritter was found guilty of a federal hate crime Friday in Columbia, S.C., in the murder of Dime Doe in 2019.
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