UPDATE: CeCe McDonald, Survivor of Hate Crime, Accepts Plea Bargain
Minnesota Judge Daniel Moreno lectured CeCe McDonald last week for pulling a pair of scissors out of her bag while escaping a violent assault. Moreno told the young, black trans woman that her actions had unlawfully endangered her pursuing attacker, Dean Schmitz, who ran into the blades and sustained a mortal injury.
The lecture came as McDonald took a plea bargain out of her second-degree murder trial, instead pleading guilty to second-degree manslaughter. The trial infuriated grassroots supporters of McDonald and trans activists, who have blamed the county attorney, the judge, and the general structure of criminal cases for re-victimizing the survivor of a hate crime.
Dr. Jillian Weiss wrote at The Bilerico Project:
Cece McDonald was a fighter. She was not going to be another victim. She fought for her life, as hard as she could, and instead of going down in a pool of blood and seeing, with her last dying vision, a gleeful crowd of haters stabbing and punching the life out of her. She moved fast, as fast as she could.
She became a victim nonetheless.
McDonald survived the kind of hate crime that kills many trans women like her; despite her lack of aggression, attempts to escape, and serious injuries, she was the only one involved in the violence to face charges. None of the white adults who attacked her—including the woman who bashed a beer glass into her face—face legal repercussions.
The judge rejected an expert witness who was called to testify about the incredible violence that transgender women of color face. Additionally, while evidence about an instance in which McDonald wrote a bad check was permitted, Judge Moreno barred the defense from submitting Schmitz’s history of assaultive behavior, or even the swastika tattoo on his chest.
The prosecution recommended a 41-month sentence, to which the judge will likely adhere. Second-degree manslaughter is a felony charge, and Sylvia Rivera Law Project founder (and law professor) Dean Spade, a transgender man, noted that it will severely impact McDonald’s future.
“In many ways, having a felony conviction can marginalize people from the most basic needs—political participation, housing and employment—so it is really concerning,” Spade told Pretty Queer author Tom Leger. “Some felony convictions can have affects on people’s ability to access financial aid, as well.”
McDonald will likely be housed in a men’s prison, where she faces a nearly 100 percent chance of harassment, assault, and sexual violence. Her support team is rallying to send her books and letters, and to continue campaigning for her release. The last hope? A pardon from Gov. Mark Dayton.
Shay O'Reilly is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @shaygabriel.