Published: Mon, October 16, 2017
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

DOJ to help prosecute man charged in murder of transgender student

DOJ to help prosecute man charged in murder of transgender student

In a move that surprised some familiar with his record on LGBT rights, Jeff Sessions sent a high-profile hate crimes lawyer to Iowa to assist the prosecution of a man charged with murdering a genderfluid teenager a year ago.

Christopher Perras, an attorney for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, is being tasked as county prosecutor in the murder case of Kedarie Johnson, a 16-year-old Burlington, Iowa student who was fatally shot in March 2016, the New York Times reported.

"Despite the protestations of liberal groups dubious of Mr. Sessions' commitment to federal hate crimes statutes, the Attorney General has proven himself to be a man of his word, dedicated to enforcing the laws of the land - including anti-LGBT hate crimes legislation", Log Cabin President Gregory T. Angelo said.

The Justice Department seldom allocates its lawyers to provide services as parochial prosecutors, and only in cases in which they can offer proficiency in areas that the federal government views as important. In January, two men, Jaron Purham and Jorge Sanders-Galvez, were charged with first-degrree murder. His trial is scheduled for October 24. He also determined that the DOJ no longer considered gay or transgender people to be protected from workplace discrimination and reversed a policy urging schools to allow transgender students use bathrooms that fit their gender identities. "It is our hope that this historic effort - the first by a Republican presidential administration - not only affects justice for Kedarie Johnson, but puts would-be attackers on notice: assaults on individuals because of sexual orientation or gender identity have no place in American society".

It is unusual for the Justice Department to involve its lawyers in a local case, signifying the importance of the case to Sessions.

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"Except in the narrowest of circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law", the attorney general wrote.

Sessions, despite his image, has spoken out against hate crimes in the past.

"The federal authorities are investigating the case as a federal hate crime, and so they would like to be part of the state case for seamless prosecution, should an indictment in federal court be handed down", said Des Moines County Attorney Amy K. Beavers. Those pledges have been met with skepticism from LGBT advocates, who point to his actions rolling back legal protections.

"I know the responsibility that we have, and we have a responsibility to protect people's freedom, their religious rights, their integrity, their ability to express themselves, to push back against violence and hate crimes that occur in our country", Sessions said at a Justice Department summit in June.

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