Two on trial in fa­tal shoot­ing of trans­gen­der woman in 2016

A man who says he par­tic­i­pated in the deadly rob­bery is a key wit­ness

The Washington Post - - METRO - BY KEITH L. ALEXAN­DER

It was be­fore dawn on July 4, 2016, and the plan, ac­cord­ing to one of the men in­volved, was to “make some moves” — their code for rob­beries for cash.

The four men piled into a white Pon­tiac and drove around parts of North­east and North­west Wash­ing­ton scan­ning the streets, Cy­heme Hall, who said he was one of them, tes­ti­fied in court. Three of the men had guns, Hall said. They found their first vic­tim on East­ern Av­enue, some­one who was “dressed as a woman but had fa­cial fea­tures like a man,” he said. “It was some­body that was gay.”

While one of the men stayed in the car, the other three rushed the vic­tim, or­dered her to put her hands in the air and pushed her to the ground, Hall, 23, tes­ti­fied. They took $80, ran back to the car and sped off. A few bocks away, they came across an­other trans­gen­der woman. Hall, 23, re­mem­bered one of the men say­ing, “Get ’em.”

Hall tes­ti­fied that he and his friend Mon­tee Tyree John­son, 23, jumped out of the car with their guns and pounced on the vic­tim, think­ing she’d give up her cash. But Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds, 22, fought back.

Hall tes­ti­fied that John­son pointed a gun at Dodds’s face and that Dodds grabbed the bar­rel with both hands. Hall said John­son fired. The men grabbed Dodds’s sil­ver clutch purse and cell­phone as she lay bleed­ing on the side­walk, Hall said.

“There was noth­ing in the purse,” he told the jury.

He said his group went on to com­mit an­other rob­bery of a group of peo­ple that night.

Days later, Dodds died of her in­juries.

De­tails of the shoot­ing of

Dodds and other rob­beries were re­vealed in D.C. Su­pe­rior Court over the past two weeks as pros­e­cu­tors pre­sented dozens of wit­nesses in the trial of John­son, of Up­per Marl­boro, Md., and Jolanta Lit­tle, 28, of South­east Wash­ing­ton. Both are charged with first-de­gree mur­der while armed, con­spir­acy, rob­bery and other counts. Pros­e­cu­tors added hate crime en­hance­ments to the charges, say­ing the men tar­geted trans­gen­der women.

In open­ing state­ments, As­sis­tant U.S. At­tor­ney Ahmed Baset out­lined the crimes and what he called “the sheer bru­tal­ity that these four men un­leased on the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity of Wash­ing­ton, D.C.”

At­tor­neys for John­son and Lit­tle say both men are in­no­cent. Lit­tle’s de­fense con­tends that Lit­tle, who was al­legedly driv­ing the car at the time while wear­ing a GPS an­kle bracelet from a pre­vi­ous car­jack­ing case, had no idea his pas­sen­gers were com­mit­ting rob­beries. John­son’s at­tor­ney says he was wrongly iden­ti­fied by Hall and Hall’s brother, who also ad­mits he was with the group and is ex­pected to tes­tify.

The trial be­gan as a re­port found an in­crease in hate crimes in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal. The District logged 209 hate crimes in 2018, up from 179 in 2017, 107 in 2016, and 66 in 2015, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study by the Cen­ter for the Study of Hate and Ex­trem­ism, a re­search cen­ter at Cal­i­for­nia State Uni­ver­sity at San Bernardino. Hate crimes based on sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­tity ac­counted for nearly half of the city’s to­tal hate crimes last year, the study said.

The District recorded 61 crimes based on sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion in 2018, up from 40 in 2016 and 56 in 2017, ac­cord­ing to the study.

At the trial, two vic­tims have tes­ti­fied that they were robbed, but nei­ther could iden­tify the at­tack­ers.

On the night af­ter the fa­tal shoot­ing of Dobbs and the other rob­beries, one vic­tim tes­ti­fied, she saw the white Pon­tiac and called po­lice. The trans­gen­der woman told po­lice that she had been robbed at gun­point less than a week ear­lier by a man in the same ve­hi­cle. The man, she told po­lice, pointed a gun at her and or­dered her to dis­robe and run across the street.

The main ev­i­dence against John­son and Lit­tle is the tes­ti­mony of Hall and his older brother, Sha­reem Hall, 25. Both men were among the four peo­ple ini­tially ar­rested and charged in the killing. The broth­ers agreed to co­op­er­ate with au­thor­i­ties and reached a deal to plead guilty to sec­ond­de­gree mur­der with a hope of se­cur­ing le­niency from pros­e­cu­tors and the judge when they are sen­tenced.

De­fense at­tor­neys ar­gued that the Hall broth­ers, who were kept to­gether in the same cell at the D.C. jail af­ter their ar­rests, have co­or­di­nated their tes­ti­mony and are ly­ing to im­pli­cate John­son and Lit­tle.

Lit­tle, Cy­heme Hall tes­ti­fied, told the men he knew where they could find vic­tims. And by Hall’s ac­count, it was John­son who fa­tally shot Dodds.

“This case is about the Hall broth­ers,” said John­son’s at­tor­ney, Kevin Irvin. “Two broth­ers with every in­cen­tive to shift the blame off them­selves and make Mr. John­son a scape­goat.”

Lit­tle’s at­tor­ney, Brandi Har­den, said Lit­tle was sim­ply driv­ing his friends around the city that night and had no role in any crimes.

With mem­bers of Dodds’s fam­ily in Judge Mil­ton Lee’s court­room last week, Cy­heme Hall gave his ac­count of the at­tack on Dodds, de­scrib­ing the way she tried to fight off the two armed men. Hall said the plan was never to kill any­one.

“The plan was just to rob a per­son,” he said. “I was in shock. He shot a per­son for noth­ing.”

Hall also said they did not set out to vic­tim­ize trans­gen­der women.

“We had no idea they were trans­gen­der when they were be­ing robbed,” he said. “They were just women stand­ing around.”

Af­ter the shoot­ing, the four men drove to North­west Wash­ing­ton to an area of K Street where trans­gen­der pros­ti­tutes of­ten work, au­thor­i­ties said. It was there, pros­e­cu­tors say, that the men de­scended on a group of five peo­ple, or­dered them to lie on the ground and robbed them.

By the time the sun was com­ing up, the men had robbed seven peo­ple, leav­ing one dy­ing, pros­e­cu­tors said. They stole $80, which they split four ways, a Metro fare card, a cell­phone, some con­doms and an empty purse, Hall said.

Out­side the court­room, Dodds’s un­cle and cousin said Dodds was shot just down the street from her aunt’s home, where she lived. They be­lieve Dodds, who worked as a pros­ti­tute, was walk­ing home when she was at­tacked.

“This is heart­break­ing,” said her un­cle, James Wag­ner. Wag­ner said he was the one who gave Dodds the nick­name Dee Dee be­cause those were among her first words as a baby.

He said Dodds’s at­tack­ers did not ex­pect Dodds to fight back be­cause of how she was dressed.

“Dee Dee was go­ing to fight back. She was not afraid,” Wag­ner said.

Dodds’s cousin, Betty Young, called the as­sailants “cow­ards” for rob­bing women in dresses. “For noth­ing,” she said. “My cousin was killed for noth­ing.”

PETULA DVORAK/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

A vigil in mem­ory of Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds was held in July 2016. She was shot on July 4 of that year and died nine days later.

LINDA DAVID­SON/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

D.C. po­lice dis­trib­uted this flier as they tried to solve the slay­ing of Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds.

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