N.Y. state court rejects hate crime conviction in transgender murder

By Daniel Wiessner ALBANY, N.Y. (Reuters) - New York's top court said prosecutors seeking to convict the killer of a transgender woman can press for a new trial after losing on Monday their appeal to reinstate his conviction and 25-year sentence for what they said was a hate crime. Dwight DeLee, who was accused of shooting and killing Lateisha Green in Syracuse in 2008 while shouting homophobic slurs, was acquitted by a jury of simple manslaughter but convicted of manslaughter as a hate crime, which carries steeper penalties. The New York Court of Appeals on Monday agreed with a lower court which last year overturned DeLee's conviction and prison sentence. That court found that the jury verdict was legally impossible because DeLee could not have committed manslaughter as a hate crime without also committing manslaughter. The court on Monday said Onondaga County prosecutors could seek a new trial for DeLee on the hate crime charge. Onondaga County Chief Assistant District Attorney James Maxwell said his office planned to move forward with a new trial against DeLee, but declined to comment on the ruling. Maxwell's office must first convince a grand jury to indict DeLee before a new trial could begin. DeLee's was the first hate crime conviction in New York involving a transgender victim, and the second in the country, court documents show. The court rejected claims by several LGBT groups that DeLee's conviction should be reinstated because while the jury was confused, its intent to convict him was clear. Michael Silverman, the executive director of the New York-based Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, said in an interview that the lower court's decision sent a message to transgender people that they did not enjoy the full protections of the law. "The court's decision (on Monday) leaves open a path for achieving a measure of justice," Silverman said. The Onondaga County District Attorney's office did not return a request for comment on whether it would seek a new trial. DeLee's attorney, Philip Rothschild, said he was surprised the court granted the possibility of a new trial, but declined further comment. The case is the People v. Dwight DeLee, New York State Court of Appeals, No. 189. (This version of the story corrects advocate Silverman's view to remove phrase that he praised the ruling in paragraphs 9-10.) (Reporting by Daniel Wiessner; Editing by Richard Chang and Grant McCool)