Remembering Deoni Jones

Family, friends mark two-year anniversary of transgender woman's fatal stabbing, express anger over delay in prosecuting accused killer

”Our office has worked closely with the family of Ms. Jones, as it does with other families of victims of crime, and we once again extend condolences for their loss,” Miller continued. ”Homicide Section supervisors have spoken to and met with the family on a number of occasions and believe that the case is appropriately staffed with two very experienced prosecutors.

”More generally, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has done extensive outreach with the LGBT community, and most recently has focused efforts on the transgender community. A recent diversity forum, co-sponsored by our office, featured a presentation on transgender issues led by a community activist.”

Bethea also had harsh words for the defense, accusing Montgomery’s lawyers of ”piling on to what this individual did to our daughter” and saying that the delays were ”another injustice” adding to the trauma of losing a child.

”Deoni’s mother and I are suffering with the constant continuations and no closure, at least on that aspect of what happened to Deoni. We have to continue to go down there to the court. We have to continue to look this individual in the face, and justice has not come yet. And that’s torture for us.”

Matthews, who works for the public defender’s office and whose past clients include Derrick Lewis, sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2004 for the August 2003 shooting of a transgender woman, Emonie Kiera Spaulding, did not return a request for comment as of press time.

Bethea says he believes that not only does Montgomery understand his actions on the night Jones was killed, but has failed to show any remorse.

”From all witnesses and all accounts, he was down at Benco strip mall, panhandling,” says Bethea. ”When he left Benco and sat down beside Deoni at the bus stop, he saw Deoni was transgender and decided to take advantage of it.”

Requests for comment from the anti-violence group Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV), which had been tracking the progress of the case, were not returned as of press time.

In spite of the sorrow surrounding the loss of Jones and the other transgender women memorialized at the Feb. 8 service, there were some hopeful notes as attendees applauded some of the recent triumphs of the transgender community.

In particular, the memorial service heaped praise upon several of the city’s political leaders who were in attendance, from Mayor Vincent Gray (D) to Councilmembers Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), David Grosso (I-At-Large) and David Catania (I-At-Large). Catania, in particular, earned accolades for his role as the chief sponsor of a bill, named posthumously for Jones, which allows transgender people to more easily obtain new birth certificates and vital documents that accurately reflect their name and gender identity. Following two unanimous votes by the D.C. Council, Gray signed the bill into law in August of last year.

Longtime local transgender activist Earline Budd added that the birth-certificate bill is already having a positive effect for some transgender women, specifically those on Medicaid, because if they can obtain a birth certificate identifying them as female, Medicaid has agreed to cover the cost of hormones. Budd also announced the formation of the Deoni Jones Foundation, an organization that will seek to engage the local community around transgender issues. The foundation will hold events on a regular basis to raise awareness of issues of importance to the transgender community.

”More comes out of this passing of one of greatness, as Deoni was,” Budd said.

In addressing the crowd at the memorial service, Catania related the story of a trip to Israel where he was shown a ravine, a place where during biblical times people were tortured and killed, which locals called ”Hell.” Catania drew the parallel to that place and the idea of ”hell on earth,” where misery and hatred are allowed to fester and be carried out against others, including innocent victims like Jones.

”We have a choice, each of us, whether or not we internalize fear, whether or not we embrace it, and how we act upon it, or whether or not we reject it,” Catania said, before shifting to honor Jones’s family for their strength and dedication to LGBT rights even after their daughter’s death. ”You bring us together to remind us that the devil and hell on earth cannot divide this community, or keep this family down.”

Speaking on behalf of Councilmember Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), who helped shepherd the Deoni Jones Birth Certificate Equaly Amendment Act through one of two crucial council committees, Alexander’s senior policy advisor, Ronald King, urged those present to combat anti-transgender and anti-LGBT actions and attitudes.

”We have to stand up when any of us is attacked, because it’s an attack on all of us,” King said. ”We cannot allow this hatred, this ‘hell on earth’ to continue.”

Both Wells and local transgender activist Jeri Hughes spoke of how D.C. has made progress in the area of transgender rights, but still has far to go. While Wells said progress has been made, ”but not near enough,” Hughes pointed out that the District has more transgender women housed in the D.C. Department of Corrections than the number of transgender women who are working for the District government. Hughes urged the crowd to ”be kind, be compassionate, and do the right thing” to combat both the hatred directed at members of the transgender community and the poverty that often hinders the success and well-being of transgender people.

The memorial service was punctuated by musical interludes, including a rendition of Amy Grant’s ”All I Ever Have to Be,” sung by Bobbi Strang, and a group sing-along to Whitney Houston’s ”The Greatest Love of All” in memory of Jones’s decision to live openly and confidently as a transgender woman in the years preceding her death.

Deoni’s mother, Judean Jones, thanked the organizers and those in attendance for honoring her daughter’s life, and invited people to join again in year’s time for another memorial service.

”For all those who are out here, I want you to come back, because it’s going to get bigger, it’s going to get better, and we’re going to take this thing all the way, until it can’t go no more,” she said. ”I love you all, and thank you.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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