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Transgender woman pleads guilty to lesser charge in murder case

Wednesday, May 2, 2012
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MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — A transgender woman has pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter in the killing of a man who witnesses claimed incited the attack using racist and transphobic slurs.

Friends and supporters say that Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald, 23, is the real victim in the case, and that she was targeted because of her race and gender.

CeCe McDonald

As a jury was being seated for her trial Wednesday, McDonald agreed to a deal that convicted her of a reduced charge of manslaughter, rather than murder, in the fatal stabbing of Dean Schmitz, 47, outside a Minneapolis bar last year.

According to reports, on the night of June 5, 2011, McDonald was walking with a group of friends past a local bar where Schmitz and others were outside smoking. Hennepin County prosecutors said that words were exchanged, a fight broke out and McDonald stabbed Schmitz in the chest with a pair of scissors.

McDonald — who was reportedly transitioning at the time — said she pulled out the pair of scissors in an attempt to defend herself after the group hurled a glass at her face, and taunted her and her friends with racist epithets, and anti-gay and transphobic slurs, including including “faggots,” “niggers” and “chicks with dicks.”

Schmitz died at the scene from a stab wound to his chest.

In a videotaped interview with police, McDonald claimed that she took out scissors to scare Schmitz, but he “ran into them.” McDonald later denied stabbing Schmitz, then switched to say she acted in self-defense.

McDonald’s case has attracted national attention, with many viewing McDonald’s actions self-defense.

Dozens of her supporters, clad in purple, attended McDonald’s hearings, and claim she is being punished simply for surviving the attack.

Supporters also argue that the case illustrates the criminal justice system’s institutional biases toward the sexual orientation, gender identity and race.

Minneapolis City Council member Cam Gordon is among McDonald’s supporters, and wrote on his blog that he believes McDonald was targeted for her race and gender.

“It appears that CeCe was the victim of a hate crime that involved many people but she was the only person held by the police.” Gordon wrote. “Here is another example transgender women of color being targeted for hate- and bias-related violence. It is unfortunate that in this case, as in so many, the hate crime itself appears to have been ignored.”

Chuck Laszewski, a spokesman for the county attorney’s office, said McDonald will be sentenced June 4, most likely to three years and five months in prison. She was being held Wednesday evening in the Hennepin County Jail.

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