A 27-year-old Washington State man has been sentenced to more than 20 years in prison after being found guilty of killing transgender teenager Nikki Kuhnhausen in 2019.
Last month, a jury found David Bogdanov, of Vancouver, guilty of second-degree murder and malicious harassment — a hate crime charge — for strangling Kuhnhausen, who was 17, to death and then burying her remains in a wooded area near Larch Mountain, in a remote part of northeast Clark County, in southern Washington.
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 by a person collecting bear grass who reported finding a human skull. Police later found the rest of Kuhnhausen’s remains, along with her clothing, jewelry, and hair extensions.
Social media and phone records led police to arrest Bogdanov, who had been messaging with the teen on Snapchat on the night she disappeared, a few days following the discovery of the body. Prosecutors also claimed that Bogdanov’s cell phone records show his phone near the area where Kuhnhausen’s remains were found.
At trial, prosecutors claimed Bogdanov strangled Kuhnhausen after learning she was transgender during a sexual encounter in his van, and lied to police multiple times after being implicated in her death. After disposing of her remains, Bogdanov 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.
But Bogdanov’s attorneys claimed he was acting in self-defense, claiming that Kuhnhausen had reached for a gun in his front seat when he told her to leave his van. At trial, he claimed he had wrapped a charging cord around Kuhnhausen’s shoulders to pull her back, but the cord accidentally slipped up to her neck, strangling her to death.
Bogdanov’s attorneys also argued at trial that he covered up the death and lied to police — initially telling them he and Kuhnhausen parted ways peacefully in downtown Vancouver — because he was afraid of being humiliated and ostracized by his family if they learned he had been intimate with a transgender woman, according to The Columbian. They have since appealed the jury’s verdict.
Moderators and members of the “Justice for Nikki” Facebook group celebrated the judge’s decision to allow the charges to run consecutively rather than concurrently.
“The judge decided that instead of letting the charges run together, they would be cumulative, allowing the sentence to be the longest possible. The judge spoke candidly that the amount of time he was allowed to give was controlled, and he could only operate within what the law allowed. And he did, to his fullest extent possible. This means that the murderer was sentenced to 20.5 years in prison,” wrote Devon Davis Williamson.
“The judge spoke for around 10 minutes during sentencing, detailing the egregious nature of the crime, and choosing to focus on the life of Nikki and the light and love that has surfaced around her case. He referred to her correctly, and with dignity, and called her a child of our community, no different than any other child. And indeed, she was,” Williamson continued. “Judicial justice will not bring Nikki back, but this was a milestone. A milestone for Nikki’s legacy, and a milestone for trans people at risk of violence. My enduring hope is that this case becomes the precedent and standard for how crimes against trans people, and children, are handled by the judicial systems of this country.”
Members of the group, in conjunction with Kuhnhausen’s family and friends, later participated in a “send-off” vigil, during which attendees created chalk art drawings or messages honoring Kuhnhausen, on Friday night.
Following the sentencing hearing, Lisa Woods, Kuhnhausen’s mother, said she supported Bogdanov receiving the lengthiest sentence possible.
“You know she was just a baby, she was just a teenager,” Woods said of her daughter, “and he took her life and you know, he got the maximum and that’s what he deserves.”
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