Minneapolis murder trial rallies transgender community

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The case of Chrishaun McDonald continues to build intrigue as her murder trial gets under way today.

Her defenders maintain the black transgender woman was protecting herself from a hate crime when she allegedly stabbed Dean Schmitz, 47, a white man from Richfield. National transgender-rights activists are in town today to talk about the significance of the case.

Local elected officials also have shown support for the 23-year-old McDonald, who was studying fashion at Minneapolis Community and Technical College and is known to friends as “CeCe.” Minneapolis City Council Member Cam Gordon weighed in on his blog weeks ago, arguing that McDonald was targeted for her race and gender.

“It is unfortunate that in this case, as in so many, the hate crime itself appears to have been ignored,” said Gordon.

McDonald said she was acting in self-defense after a friend in Schmitz’ group hurled a glass at McDonald’s face. She also maintains that the group taunted her and her friends with anti-gay and racist remarks.

And state Rep. Susan Allen, DFL-Minneapolis, has written Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, urging him to remember the “extenuating circumstances” of McDonald’s race and transgender, which she said “have cast unique question marks” over the case.

But the details of what happened last June outside of the Schooner Tavern in Minneapolis remain in dispute. Despite pressure from LGBT groups to drop the charges, Freeman responded in a letter to McDonald supporters that the evidence will show murder was the appropriate charge. “Gender, race, sexual orientation and class are not part of the decision-making process,” he said.

A hearing Friday hinted at the dueling narratives that will likely emerge during the trial. Hersch Izek, McDonald’s attorney, said McDonald walked away from the scuffle, but Schmitz followed her to continue the fight.

Prosecutors aren’t buying that story. “We don’t believe the evidence will show Ms. McDonald walked away from anything,” said assistant county attorney Amy Sweasy. “Ms. McDonald has given more versions of the events of that night than I can count.”

McDonald told police that she took out some scissors to scare Schmitz, and he was mortally stabbed when he ran into them.

Another twist in the case came Friday as attorneys argued whether Judge Daniel Moreno should allow evidence of Schmitz’ swastika tattoo on his chest. Prosecutors say it’s not relevant.

But Izek countered that the tattoo represents Schmitz’ “hate, violence and his attitude toward people of color and people who are different from him,” he said. “CeCe is as different from Mr. Schmitz as anybody.”