Philly police declare transsexual's death a homicide

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com February 01 2003 1:00 AM ET

More than a month after transgender activist and performer Nizah Morris died of an unexplained head injury on a Philadelphia street corner, police on Thursday have declared the 47-year-old transsexual's death a homicide, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"The cause of death, according to the medical examiner, is cranio-cerebral injury, and the manner of death is homicide," said homicide division captain Thomas Lippo at a news conference outside police headquarters.

The finding--which came after members of the transgender community accused police of foot-dragging--suggested that Morris might have been killed by "something similar to a severe blow to the head, possibly caused by a punch or possibly by a motor-vehicle accident," Lippo said.

A passing motorist nearly hit Morris's unconscious body near the intersection of 16th and Walnut streets at about 3:30 a.m. on December 22. Morris was rushed to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in a coma and died on Christmas Eve after being taken off life support. Although a medical examiner ruled the death a homicide on December 27, police asked a brain-injury specialist to conduct further tests on samples taken during the initial autopsy. Initial police investigations had suggested that her death was accidental.

Lippo said that despite initial reluctance to declare Morris's death a murder, police had investigated it "just as we would a homicide." But transgender activists have accused the police of not taking the case seriously.

A Tuesday night vigil for Morris drew several hundred people. Many in the crowd accused law enforcement of discrimination against transgendered people. Transgender activist Jaci Adams, 45, a close friend of Morris's, credited community protests with focusing attention on Morris's death. "It let the cops know this is very serious and that they need to pay a little more attention," Adams said.

Questions about the police's role in Morris's death are particularly pointed because Morris was given a ride by a police officer just minutes before she was critically wounded. A female officer responded to a call after a disoriented Morris was found on a sidewalk outside a bar where she had been attending a Christmas party. Morris told the officer she wanted to go home, not to the hospital, police said. Bystanders had to assist Morris into the officer's car.

Although Morris lived near the intersection of 50th and Walnut streets, police said she asked to be let off at 15th and Walnut. Morris walked away under her own power, police said.
The officer, whom police have not identified, was the last person known to have seen her before she was injured. Lippo said the officer is not a suspect.