The jury in the murder trial of Kedarie Johnson, the gender-fluid Iowa teen, brought down a guilty verdict against the 23-year-old man that killed him.
The jury convicted Jorge Sanders-Galvez of first-degree murder, but Johnson’s mother wants her son’s death to be declared a hate crime.
“I’ve said that it was a hate crime since the day this all happened,” Katrina Johnson said, “and I do feel like it’s important that that be said."
The 16-year-old, who sometimes wore women’s clothing, was killed by Sanders-Galvez, and his cousin Jaron Purham, after a chance encounter at a grocery store, the Associated Press reports. They had assumed Johnson was a girl, and aggressively pursued him before kidnapping him.
Prosecutor Chris Perras said the men drove to their home, and tried to have sex with Johnson. A struggle ensued and they "stuffed a rag down Johnson’s throat and put a plastic bag around his head." Eventually, they drove the teen to an alley where they shot him, and dumped the boy after pouring bleach to hide DNA evidence.
Iowa did not prosecute the case as a hate crime because the state’s hate crime statute does not cover gender identity, The New York Times reports. The Justice Department, however, sent Perras, an experienced hate crimes attorney to assist the state trial (at the surprising request by Attorney General Jeff Sessions).
“When you charge someone with a hate crime, it sends a message and the message is clear that this is a state that recognizes a vulnerable group and is saying that we won’t tolerate this sort of behavior,” Mark Kende, a law professor and director of the constitutional law center at Drake University, told The New York Times. “It isn’t just about the penalties involved.”
It is still not clear if the Justice Department will file federal hate crimes charges against the two men. Sanders-Galvez is facing life in prison. Purham's trial has yet to start.