The man accused of fatally beating 21-year-old black trans woman Islan Nettles in New York City in 2013 pleaded guilty to the crime in Manhattan Supreme Court Monday, reports Mic.
James Dixon, 25, accepted a plea deal in the case, avoiding a full trial that could have resulted in a 25-year prison sentence. As part of the plea agreement, in which he pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter, Dixon will serve 12 years behind bars.
In a press release, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance championed the deal as justice served:
“With this conviction, James Dixon has finally been brought to justice for this brutal and lethal assault. Members of the transgender community are far too often the targets of violent crime. I hope that this conviction provides some comfort to Ms. Nettles' family and friends, and affirms my office's commitment to protecting members of the LGBTQ community.”
Nettles was 21 and living in Harlem when Dixon reportedly approached her and another trans female friend on August 17, 2013. Dixon told police that he attempted to hit on Nettles, not realizing that she was a transgender woman.
In his testimony, Dixon said he did not categorically hate LGBT people, Mic reports. But after learning that Nettles was a trans woman, Dixon said, he felt his “manhood” in question. “I don't care about what they do,” he said of LGBT people. “I just don't wanna be fooled. My pride is at stake.”
That perceived threat to his pride prompted Dixon to throw Nettles to the ground and beat her. Her nose, jaw, eye socket, and skull were all fractured in the brutal attack. As The Root reports, Nettles would be taken to Harlem Hospital where she was “declared braindead” by doctors. Just days later, Nettles was taken off life support.
Dixon was not indicted for the crime until a year and a half after Nettles had died, in March 2015. According to The Washington Post, Dolores Nettles, the victim’s mother, called attention to the “slow pace at which her [daughter’s] case was investigated.”
“Why didn’t a detective come to the hospital?” she asked during a 2014 protest. “A social worker there had to call the DA’s office. I said to them, ‘Half of my child’s brain is hanging out of her head and you can’t tell me anything?'”
In a shift from previous cases of fatal anti-trans violence, presiding Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Daniel P. Conviser allowed a videotaped confession from Dixon to be admitted into evidence in his trial. On the tape, which was played in court Friday, Dixon told police he killed Nettles in a “blind fury.”
Cecilia Gentili, coordinator for Apicha Community Health Center’s trans health program, told NBC News the conviction could be a landmark moment in how crimes against trans women are prosecuted. Historically, such crimes have rarely resulted in arrests and have been even less likely to be brought to trial or result in a conviction, even in states that have hate-crime laws on the books.
"This sends a message that these crimes won't keep going unpunished as they were in the past," Gentili said.
In 2015 a record number of trans women were murdered in the United States — a majority of whom were women of color. The year that Nettles died, trans women of color accounted for nearly three-quarters of anti-LGBT hate-crime deaths, according to statistics from National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. Trans women of color are also disproportionately likely to be sexually assaulted or be victims of police brutality.
At least six transgender people have been killed in the U.S. this year alone. This total does not account for those whose deaths went unreported or those who were misgendered in police and media reports, erasing their identity as transgender individuals.