A second person charged in connection with the brutal murder of a Missouri transgender teenager has pleaded guilty to a charge of abandonment of a corpse.
OzarksFirst.com reports that James Thomas Grigsby, 25, of Thayer, Mo., pleaded guilty to the charge after admitting he helped dispose of the burned remains of the body of 17-year-old Ally Steinfeld by dumping them in a chicken coop in Cabool, Mo. in September 2017. Grigsby was subsequently sentenced to four years in prison.
According to prosecutors, 18-year-old Andrew Vrba had originally attempted to poison Steinfeld, but resorted to stabbing her after she would not drink the liquid. He then stabbed Steinfeld multiple times, gouging out her eyes and stabbing her in the genitals.
Prosecutors allege that 18-year-old Isis Schauer and 24-year-old Briana Calderas, whom Steinfeld had been dating and living with in Calderas’ trailer, helped Vrba burn the teen’s body. They then placed the remains in a plastic bag and enlisted Grigsby to help them dispose of those remains.
Schauer has since pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and abandonment of a corpse, accepting a 20-year prison sentence in exchange. Vrba and Calderas face charges of first-degree murder and abandonment of a corpse. Vrba is next scheduled to appear in court on July 23, and Calderas will go on trial in February 2019.
Authorities, including Texas County Sheriff James Sigman and prosecutor Parke Stevens, Jr., have insisted the crime was not motivated by Steinfeld’s gender identity, which is why Stevens did not pursue hate crime enhancements that could have lead to harsher penalties for those convicted of Steinfeld’s murder.
“I would say murder in the first-degree is all that matters,” Stevens said shortly after Steinfeld’s body was found. “That is a hate crime in itself.”
But the Human Rights Campaign questioned whether authorities had an ideological bias that stopped prosecutors from pursuing hate crime charges. The organization noted that details of Steinfeld’s murder that were made public “raised red flags” as to whether hate crime charges should have been pursued.
“The perpetrators of this crime knew Ally and knew that she was transgender,” HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow wrote in a letter to Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley — a Republican running for U.S. Senate against Sen. Claire McCaskill. “Particularly alarming is the information that one or more of the perpetrators stabbed Ally in her genitals which heavily suggests that this was not a general crime but rather was motivated by her gender identity.”