A man who shot a transgender woman in the neck and attempted to rob her after she declined his sexual proposition pleaded guilty Thursday, Sept. 29, to a charge of aggravated assault while armed.
Darryl Willard, 20, of Northeast D.C., appeared in Superior Court Thursday to plead guilty before Judge Ann O’Regan Keary, who scheduled a sentencing hearing for Dec. 6.
Because Willard used a firearm while committing the assault, his plea carries a mandatory minimum of five years in prison, with a maximum sentence of up to 30 years imprisonment.
Under the District of Columbia Official Code, a person convicted of aggravated assault can be fined up to $10,000, be imprisoned for up to 10 years, or both. For illegally carrying a gun in a ”gun free zone,” a person can be punished by a fine of up to twice the regular amount, a prison sentence up to twice the maximum sentence for the offense, or both.
Keary also ordered a pre-sentencing investigation and a youth study done prior to the hearing to see if Willard was eligible for prosecution under the 1985 Youth Rehabilitation Act, which gives the court greater flexibility in sentencing first-time offenders younger than 22.
The Youth Rehabilitation Act also allows youth who commit violent crimes – except for murder – to ”set aside” their conviction, meaning it will not be a matter of public record, but will still remain available to law enforcement personnel and court officials to be used in case of future violations.
Jeffrey Light, an attorney who works with the DC Trans Coalition, said that prosecuting Willard under the Youth Rehabilitation Act could allow him to earn alternative sentencing, such as supervised probation, following the completion of his five-year minimum sentence.
Keary ordered the pre-sentencing investigation to be completed by Nov. 28. Part of that investigation will look at factors such as Willard’s criminal history, his employment history and any drug use to determine if sentencing under the Youth Rehabilitation Act would benefit him.
Keary also ordered any community impact statements and letters to be turned into the court by Dec. 2 so that input from victims and members of the community can be taken into account before deciding on a sentence.
Representatives from the DC Trans Coalition (DCTC) and Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV) said they would be issuing community statements in advance of the sentencing hearing. Light said that the victim would likely be called to testify on the day of the hearing.
Willard was initially charged with assault with intent to kill while armed, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Dillon offered to have Willard plead guilty to aggravated assault in exchange for not indicting Willard on more serious charges.
Willard turned himself in to police Sept. 13 following the shooting. According to the police incident report and charging documents, the transgender woman had picked up Willard – a previous sexual acquaintance, she says – in her car while driving through the District’s Shipley Terrace neighborhood Sept. 12. In the course of a 15-minute car ride, Willard allegedly asked the woman for oral sex, which she declined before dropping Willard at the intersection of 23rd and Savannah Streets SE.
After exiting the car, the documents report that Willard pointed a revolver at the woman, telling her, ”Give me what you got, where’s your money at?” When the woman refused to give him her money, Willard shot her in the neck. She sped away and later drove to the Metropolitan Police Department’s Seventh District Station to report the incident.
The woman was transported from the station to George Washington Hospital and treated for a gunshot wound to the neck. According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the bullet punctured both of her lungs and lodged near her heart, where it remains.
In his plea, Willard agreed that he shot the woman at close range, but did not accept full responsibility for the facts provided by the prosecutor, meaning he denied riding in the car with the woman and said he had not had prior sexual encounters with her.
The plea deal upset some members of the LGBT community, who were upset that Willard might only serve five years. Some also alleged that Dillon did not consult with the victim before offering the deal.
Transgender activist Ruby Corado said the victim told her she was dissatisfied with the terms of the plea deal, in that the shooting could have easily been fatal. Corado also said the victim confided in her that she had not been consulted prior to the crafting of the plea deal.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia pushed back against those allegations, but refused to comment on the case.
”The U.S. Attorney’s Office routinely notifies and meets with victims about their rights and available services, and gives them information and updates on cases,” said spokesman Bill Miller. ”However, we decline public comment about our work with victims on specific matters.”
By phone, the victim confirmed to Metro Weekly that Dillon had informed her of the plea deal, but she declined to say whether he had consulted with her prior to offering it. That phone interview was cut short by an apparent disconnection, and subsequent attempts to reach the victim were unsuccessful.