23 November 2013

Did Islan Nettles' Killer Walk?

Three days ago--the 20th--was our fifteenth annual Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Now, right here in New York City, we've had another reminder of why the day is necessary: the only person charged in the murder of Harlem transwoman Islan Nettles saw his case dismissed.

Now, it very well may be that Paris Wilson, the young man accused of killing her, is innocent.  He was arrested after Nettles was found at the corner of 148th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard.  She was lying on the ground, unconscious, with one eye swollen shut and blood on her face.  For five days, she lay in a coma until she was taken off life support.  

After Mr. Wilson's arrest, another young man came forward and took responsibility for the attack.  That left the Manhattan District Attorney's office unable to pursue the case against Wilson even though the young man who claimed responsibility for the attack on Nettles' said he was too drunk to remember details of his crime.  

Further complicating matters is the fact that in that upon his arrest, Wilson was charged with misdemeanor assault and harassment.  Here in New York, someone charged with a misdemeanor must be tried within 90 days.  If he or she isn't, he or she goes free.  Since Wilson was arrested shortly after the attack on 17 August, he was sprung on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Of course, one could argue--as the District Attorney's Office did--that had Wilson (or the young man who claimed responsibility) had gone to trial, there was a real risk of dismissal on some technicality or another.  If I were a DA, I'd probably think the same way.  And I certainly wouldn't want to see a killer--whether of a trans person or anyone else--walk free because the prosecutor's office "didn't have their ducks in a row".  Still, it's frustrating and sad to think that Islan Nettle's murder could become another hate crime that falls through the cracks of the criminal justice system.