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Shocker: Texas Man Confesses to Killing Trans Woman But Only Gets Probation

Shocker: Texas Man Confesses to Killing Trans Woman But Only Gets Probation

Jonathan Stuart Kenney and Janette Tovar

As a Dallas man who confessed to killing his trans Latina partner walks away with only probation, relatives, friends, and allies question whether trans lives matter in Texas.


Family and supporters of a murdered transgender Latina woman are calling the sentencing of the man who confessed to killing her in 2012 "unbelievable" and a major "injustice."

Jonathan Stuart Kenney was granted a plea bargain Tuesday and sentenced to serve only 10 years probation, without jail time. Kenney, a 29-year old nightclub promoter, confessed to police on tape almost a day after the incident, according to Raw Story, that he repeatedly beat 43-year old Janette Tovar.

Tovar was his intimate partner at the time. The Texas Observer noted that witnesses said they saw Kenney slam her head onto the pavement on the 830 block of West Davis Street in Dallas October 12, 2012. Kenney also confessed that when he returned to their home, he beat Tovar again and only later in the day did he call 911 after he deemed Tovar unresponsive. The Dallas County Medical Examiner's Office ruled her death a homicide due to blunt force trauma to the head, according to the Dallas Voice.

This surprising sentence comes during a time when the #TransLivesMatter Movement is bringing increased attention to violence against transgender individuals, and the toll of trans murders for this year alone now stands at 19. Supporters posting on a facebook page established in her memory say her murder reveals complex ways in which trans people who already face harassment and violence may be re-harmed within the law enforcement and criminal justice systems as they or their supporters seek justice.

Trans blogger Lexie Cannes posted a report from a trans woman who had an opportunity to talk with state district Judge Tracy Holmes about his sentence, and who conveyed the trans community's concerns about its apparent leniency. According to Pamela Curry:

"Judge Holmes shared information that wasn't commonly known -- Tovar refused EMT transportation to a hospital following her injury, further, she had cocaine in her system -- something that could cast reasonable doubt on the real cause of death with a jury. Kenney had a real chance of getting acquitted if the case went to trial.

"While at first glance, a sentence of probation may seem extraordinary light, there are tough realities and hurdles facing Kenney. First, he has admitted to assault, of which there is no appeal. Second, a 10-year probation is no walk in the park for a known drug user and a person with propensity for violence. Drug and alcohol testing is reportedly part of his sentence. A trip-up or an arrest for violence could result in Judge Holmes turning the probation into a couple decades in prison."

One year after Tovar's death, her cousin, Marisa Anguiano told the Observer that despite Kenney's detailed confession, she was concerned that the evidence against him would not be enough to convict him because four prosecutors had handled the case with varying decrees of attention and several witnesses to the street assault refused go on record to testify about the incident.

Even though those witnesses did not come forward, "the manager of the couple's apartment, who lived directly below them," the Observer reported, "told police they were 'always fighting' and did so between 8 A.M. and 9 A.M. on the day of Tovar's death, when he heard Tovar yell, 'Get off me.'"

Despite this evidence, Kenney was only "jailed from October to December of 2012, but managed to have his bail reduced from $500,000 to $50,000 and obtained release. This is the sum total of time that Kenney has served behind bars," according to Raw Story. And according to the website's investigation, even though "Kenney was arraigned on charges of murder three days after Tovar's death and indicted on the charges in December of that year" in May of 2013, "the D.A.'s office re-indicted Kenney on lesser charges of aggravated assault," to which he ultimately pleaded guilty in exchange for probation.

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs' 2012 Report on Intimate Partner Violence in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Affected Communities in the U.S., showed that 21 intimate partner violence homicides of LGBT people were documented during the year that Tovar was killed, the highest yearly total ever recorded at the time, and transgender people of color like Tovar were the most affected by intimate partner violence.

Of the decision to grant Kenney probation, black transgender journalist Monica Roberts of TransGriot noted, "It's just another infuriating slap in the face to not only Janette Tovar's family and all who loved her, but the Dallas area trans community. Janette Tovar's murderer is walking the streets. It's also jacked up cases like this that help grease the skids for more anti-trans murders."

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Cleis Abeni

Cleis (pronounced like "dice") is a former correspondent for The Advocate.
Cleis (pronounced like "dice") is a former correspondent for The Advocate.