A Syracuse man who is being retried for the 2008 shooting of a transgender woman and is serving as his own lawyer made a potentially convincing argument to the jury that eyewitnesses who identified him as the shooter were lying to protect their own friends and loved ones.
Dwight DeLee, 30, is faces a charge of manslaughter with hate crime enhancements for allegedly shooting Lateisha Green, a transgender woman, while she sat in a car on Syracuse’s Near West Side, reports The Syracuse Post-Standard.
If found guilty, DeLee could face up to 25 years in prison.
DeLee was initially convicted of Green’s murder in 2009 and served two years in jail. But he was released after the conviction was overturned because the first jury found him guilty of manslaughter as a hate crime, but not guilty of regular manslaughter.
After a protracted legal battle, the New York State Supreme Court eventually allowed for a retrial. He was re-indicted on the charge in 2016, and went to trial earlier this week, choosing to serve as his own lawyer.
In his closing arguments before the jury, DeLee sought to cast doubt on the charge the hate crime charge leveled against him, employing visual aids that purported to show the names of witnesses for the prosecution, and their connections to one another.
DeLee suggested that the witnesses were protecting people close to them, saying: “As humans, by nature, we are protective and save our own.”
DeLee questioned the witnesses’ credibility, as well as their identification of him as the shooter and their allegations that he had made several anti-gay remarks prior to the shooting. He also noted that it was dark outside, that the witnesses were teenagers who had been drunk and partying, and that their level of intoxication and the loud music from the party could have interfered with their ability to identify DeLee or hear any comments he allegedly made.
“They’re all make-believe, like Santa Claus,” DeLee said of the witnesses’ testimony. “Only parents tell their children about Santa Claus with good intentions. These stories at this trial were given with ill intent.”
DeLee’s arguments may have been bolstered by the fact that two witnesses for the prosecution refused to testify, and one even threatened suicide if he was forced to do so. That man remains in the hospital, while the second witness who declined to testify is serving 30 days in jail for contempt of court.
But prosecutor and Chief Assistant District Attorney Joseph Collican argued that all the witnesses who did testified pointed to one person — DeLee — as the shooter. He added that there was no credible evidence presented at trial that indicates that another person was responsible for Green’s death.
Collican also said that some discrepancies in the witnesses’ accounts were inevitable, but did not stray significantly from one another to justify anything other than a guilty verdict.
“We are all human beings, we all perceive things differently, we all react to things differently,” he said. “If it all added up perfectly, I’d question it.
“Each and every piece of evidence from that witness stand pointed to one person, Dwight DeLee,” Collican concluded, adding that if a homicide investigation is a puzzle, the “face on that puzzle is Dwight DeLee and no one else.”