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Guilty verdict in nation’s first federal gender-identity hate crime trial

In a landmark case, a federal jury in South Carolina on Friday found Daqua Ritter guilty of killing a transgender woman, Dime Doe. It is the first time that a federal jury has convicted someone of murder with the motive being the victim’s real or perceived gender identity.

On Aug. 4, 2019, Dime Doe, 24, who was born and raised in Allendale, South Carolina, and remembered by family and friends as beautiful and the life of the party, was found dead on Concord School Road. She was found slumped in the driver’s seat of her car, shot three times in the head at close range with a .25-caliber handgun.

Ritter, who had been in a tumultuous, secretive relationship with Doe over several years, was found guilty on all three counts of his indictment, which included possession of a firearm during a violent crime and lying to federal investigators. The jury of nine women and three men returned the verdict at 9:15 p.m. after deliberating for almost four hours.

“The jury heard testimony that her killer, Daqua Ritter, believed this was going to be a cold case, it is not a cold case anymore,” said First Assistant Attorney Brook Andrews from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for South Carolina at a news conference following the verdict.

“The jury has told us who did it and they have held him accountable. For that we are grateful, we are relieved and we remain heartbroken at the loss of Ms. Doe and the tragedy her family has suffered.”

After the verdict was read, there were sobs from Doe’s family, who attended every day of the trial. Afterward they stood with the prosecution team, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ben Garner and Elle Klein from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for South Carolina, and Andrew Manns from the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Doe’s father, Ernest, carried her portrait, while her mother held Klein’s hand.

Prosecutors alleged that Ritter, 27, killed Doe because he feared being perceived as gay for being in a relationship with a transgender woman. Witnesses testified that Ritter was “furious” when his girlfriend went through his phone and accused him of being in a relationship with Doe.

Ritter threatened to “beat” Doe, according to two witnesses, and messaged her that he was being called “all kinds of (a homophobic slur)“ now that their relationship was public knowledge.

“His anger and his rage after those rumors came out, they were focused on one person: Dime Doe,” Manns said.

Ritter is not the first person to be charged under the gender-identity provision contained in the federal Matthew Shepard And James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2009. He is the first to be convicted.

“This case stands as a testament to our committed effort to fight violence that is targeted against those that may identify as members of the opposite sex, for their sexual orientation or any other protected characteristic,” Andrews said. “We are going to pursue those crimes and if we can make ‘em, you can bet we are going to prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.”

Between 2017 and 2022, there were 222 homicides of transgender people in the United States, according to a study from Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that aims to reduce gun violence. The victims are disproportionately Black trans women, who made up 67 percent of those victims killed by a gun.

South Carolina is one of just two states in the country that does not have a hate crime law. The Clementa C. Pinckney Hate Crimes Act has cleared the South Carolina House of Representatives twice, but has stalled in the Senate. The bill would enhance penalties for certain crimes motivated by hate toward a protected class, including race and gender identity.

“We know that hate crimes don’t just impact individuals that are the victims of those crimes, because when a person is targeted because of their very identity, it impacts entire communities,” said Chase Glenn, executive director of Alliance for Full Acceptance, a South Carolina-based LGBTQ advocacy group.

To be the only state other than Wyoming that has failed to pass a hate crime law sends a message that “our state doesn’t take seriously that they would be targeted for who they are,” Glenn said.

The jury reached its verdict after hearing testimony from 27 witnesses over four days. Those witnesses included a group of friends Ritter fell in with in the month leading up to the killing, as well as neighbors and family members who testified about his actions the day of the crime, including destroying his clothes in a “burn barrel.” The jury also heard testimony from investigators from the FBI and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, along with experts in DNA, ballistics and cellular records.

This testimony locked Ritter into an unforgiving timeline that prosecutors called a “murder window.”

Ritter is expected to be sentenced in three months, Andrews said. In pre-trial motions, prosecutors said they were not seeking the death penalty. The federal sentencing guidelines for murder set life at the recommended sentence.

There is no parole in the federal system.

The Case

Doe was born and grew up in Allendale, South Carolina. She attended Allendale-Fairfax High School and friends and family who took the stand described how stood out, unapologetically, in their small town.

After her death, suspicions and rumors flew fast in Allendale, where many of the town’s approximately 2,600 people are either relatives or neighbors.

Almost immediately, those rumors focused on Ritter, then 22. Despite his attempts to hide the relationship, it thad become the subject of gossip. Ritter was an outsider in Allendale. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he would visit the town every summer with his grandmother. It was there that he met Doe, whose aunt was dating one of Ritter’s uncles.

At some point, the two began a relationship but then fell out of touch. But on July 3, 2019, Ritter reached out to Doe.

“No drama no BS I really gotta talk to you,” Ritter texted her in a message he later deleted.

“S--- hurt me we look each other in the face now and don’t speak,” Doe wrote back. “I’m scared you might try to do something to me.”

Ritter replied, “I miss you for real.”

Doe replied, “That’s why I’m scared to come. No lie, I’m scared. You ain’t never talk like that.”

Over the next month, they would message each other over the TextNow app 749 times and talk for almost four hours. The messages showed how Ritter relied on Doe — he asked for rides and to hang out. He confided that he was sick of being “homeless,” bouncing between Allendale and Columbia and feeling trapped in both.

But he often pulled away and expressed fear and anger over how others, including his then-girlfriend, Delasia Green, perceived his sexuality. He warned Doe not to tell anyone about him and to delete his messages.

Days before her death, Ritter and Doe got into a fight over text.

“I feel like you use me. This is where s--- went wrong the first time,” Doe wrote. “I break my neck to do s--- for you.”

But on Aug. 4, Ritter texted and called Doe from his friend Xavier Pinckney’s phone, asking her to come pick him up. A summer storm had just passed, and a group of people who were hanging out with Ritter saw him get into a car matching Doe’s white Chevy Impala.

Pinckney pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about letting Ritter use his phone and denying that his phone could make calls.

At 3:02 p.m., Ritter was seen on bodycam footage in Doe’s car during a traffic stop. At 4:41 p.m., Pinckney called a number from his phone that cell records link to Doe’s phone, which was found in her car. He testified that it sounded like Ritter’s voice when the call was picked up.

Around that time, Ritter’s uncle’s girlfriend testified that he showed up on foot, unannounced and nervous at his uncle’s house, less than half a mile away from where Doe’s body was found.

Multiple witnesses testified that they saw Ritter burning his clothes later that evening. The next day, one witness testified that Ritter had confessed to her; another witness said Ritter had asked him to hide a gun.

Over the course of four days, defense attorneys Joshua Kendrick and co-counsel Lindsey Vann questioned the motives of many of the prosecution’s witnesses, many of whom admitted to previously lying to investigators. They also attempted to poke holes in their testimony regarding contradictory or inaccurate times, dates and details.

“There’s a story per person,” Kendrick said during his closing.

As part of meeting the burden for the murder charge, prosecutors were required to prove that the federal government had jurisdiction over the case. In order to prove this, prosecutors introduced evidence that material elements of the crime, including the gun Ritter used, the phone he used to communicate with Doe and Doe’s car, which was made in Canada, were products of interstate commerce.