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Cops: Brooklyn Man Admitted to Killing Trans Woman Islan Nettles in 'Blind Rage'

Islan Nettles

At a pretrial hearing in Manhattan Supreme Court Thursday, police revealed that the 25-year-old man accused of fatally beating black transgender woman Islan Nettles in Harlem in 2013 did so out of "blind rage."

The New York Daily News writes that the revelation comes from a police report introduced in court proceedings Thursday, following the last May's indictment of James Dixon, who stands accused of killing the 21-year-old black trans woman August 17, 2013

In the police report examined in court Thursday, Detective Heriberto Vasquez recorded that, on the date of Nettles's killing three years ago, Dixon allegedly asked Nettles if she was female when meeting her in Harlem. At the time, Nettles was socializing with a transgender friend, according to the Daily News.

When Nettles answered that she was indeed female, Dixon allegedly told police that his “blind rage” made him strike Nettles repeatedly, beating her to the ground, continuing his assault even after she lay on the pavement when she hit her head on the curb. 

According to the indictment from Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Viorst, Nettles died as a result of three blows to her face by Dixon. She sustained fractures to her eye, nose, jaw, and skull. 

It is currently unknown whether Dixon's defense will include a so-called trans panic component, in which an assailant claims that they were so shocked by learning that someone was transgender that they had no choice but to react violently — and in the case of Nettles, with fatal violence.

Hoping to preempt that defense, however, trans activists insist that Nettles's answer to Dixon's alleged question was not an attempt at subterfuge — because transgender women are as female as any other women.

Jennifer Louise Lopez, the executive director of Everything Transgender in New York City, tells The Advocate that it is crucial that as many transgender activists as possible continue to be present in the courtroom at Dixon’s current hearing to send a signal to the court that Nettles's life matters and that justice must be served in her death. 

Lopez organized a rally in front of the courthouse Thursday to show the ongoing support for Nettles by New York's transgender community. In daily Facebook posts, Lopez has documented her presence in the courtroom with other activists like Xena Grandichelli. 

“Numbers matter,” said Lopez in a prepared statement Thursday. Lopez also notes in the statement that because Dixon allegedly confessed several times, he should be brought to swift justice.

Lopez sent an additional statement today reporting that Dixon’s interrogation video from 2013 was being screened in court — a video that allegedly shows Dixon’s multiple confessions.

Activists are particularly concerned that Dixon’s assumed “blind rage” justification for the killing will not lessen his punishment, which they hope will be severe.

So-called gay and trans panic defenses, which blame victims for their own assault because of an assailant’s mistaken belief that victims are "hiding" their sexual orientation or gender identity, have presented severe enough problems in the trials of assailants of LGBT people that in 2014 California passed a bill that bars the use of such "panic" defenses in criminal courts statewide.

Activists are also on guard because of the long time that it took for prosecutors to indict Dixon for Nettles’s killing despite being in possession of reports and video — as the court's current hearing makes clear — in which Dixon appears to confess to the crime.

The long road to an indictment has drawn protests over the last two years from the victim’s mother, Dolores Nettles, and from transgender activists. Dixon was only indicted last May, nearly two years after Nettles was killed. 

"I feel like someone got away with murder,” Nettles’s mother told DNAInfo last year.

In January 2014, Nettles’s mother was joined by more than 100 people outside the New York City Police Department in a rally to protest the delay and overall handling of Nettles's case.

Now the rallies continue in the hope that Dixon’s alleged confessions will result in justice for Nettles.

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