A Washington State jury found a man guilty on a hate crime charge for killing a transgender teenager after discovering her gender identity during a sexual encounter two years ago.
David Bogdanov, 27, of Vancouver, was convicted of a charge of second-degree murder and malicious harassment in the killing of Nikki Kuhnhausen, who was 17 years old at the time of her death.
Kuhnhausen went missing on June 6, 2019 while crashing at a friend’s house. Six months later, on Dec. 7, 2019, her remains were found in a heavily wooded area near Larch Mountain, in a remote part of northeast Clark County, along with her clothing, jewelry, and hair extensions.
Social media and phone records led police to Bogdanov, who had been messaging with the teen on Snapchat on the night she disappeared. Prosecutors also claimed that Bogdanov’s cell phone records show his phone near the area where Kuhnhausen’s remains were found.
The Columbian previously reported that Bogdanov had told police, after his arrest, that he first ran into Kuhnhausen in downtown Vancouver, and invited her to join him and his brothers at a bar. He gave her his coat because she was cold, and supplied her with vodka to drink, letting her keep the bottle.
Kuhnhausen’s friends claimed she returned to the house where she had been staying, and proceeded to use a friend’s cellphone to access her Snapchat account, where she exchanged messages with Bogdanov, ostensibly because he had promised to get her a cellphone later that morning. She then left in a white van with Bogdanov.
At some point, Bogdanov learned that Kuhnhausen was transgender, which made him uncomfortable. So he told police that he had ordered Kuhhausen to get out of the van, claiming she walked away on foot.
But last week, when Bogdanov took the stand, he testified that he had killed Kuhnhausen in self-defense, accidentally strangling her with a cord in an attempt to restrain her after she became violent and reached for a gun in his van, according to CNN affiliate KATU.
He then dumped her body down the hillside of Larch Mountain, booked a one-way flight to Ukraine, and called a friend to “get rid” of his car, according to trial testimony. He returned to the United States six weeks later.
During closing arguments, the prosecution accused Bogdanov of lying multiple times to police, saying he had never before claimed he’d had to defend himself. Meanwhile, the defense argued that he didn’t tell police the truth because he would have found it “humiliating” and been shunned if his family found out he had been with a transgender woman, reports The Columbian.
Bogdanov is next scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 9 for sentencing, where he could potentially face anywhere from 11 to 19½ years in prison.
The Facebook group Justice for Nikki celebrated the jury’s decision.
“The long buildup to this trial, and the defense’s attempts to somehow paint Nikki, who was a 17-year-old girl, as being ‘responsible’ for the defendant’s violent actions, were excruciating for us, and particularly for Nikki’s mother Lisa,” the post reads. “There’s no excuse for what happened to Nikki. This hate crime wounded our community. We came together to help each other heal and cope. While that healing will take a lifetime for some of us, this verdict, in its own way, offers a sense of closure.”
The group, in other posts, also lamented that Bogdanov’s lawyers had tried to employ a form of the gay or trans ‘panic’ defense, in which a defendant argues the discovery of an LBGTQ person’s identity could be motivation for a defendant’s violent overreaction. In 2020, Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signed a law, named in Kuhnhausen’s memory, intended to ban the use of gay or trans ‘panic’ defense in criminal cases.
Devon Davis Williamson, a member of the Justice for Nikki Task Force, said that the situation became particularly stressful after the hate crime charge was almost derailed by a lone juror who was accused by fellow jurors of holding up a unanimous verdict because she appeared to be basing her decision on personal bias and not the facts of the case. But after receiving instructions from the judge, the jury agreed to convict Bogdanov on both charges against him.
“We were confident going in that David Bogdanov would be convicted of at least the murder charge. We’re also aware of the culture of Clark County and were unsure about the hate crime, despite all of the evidence,” Davis Williamson told The Columbian. It’s a win; it’s a really big win.”
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