U.S. News

Iowa jury returns guilty verdict in gender-identity murder case

(Reuters) - A man was found guilty on Friday of murdering an Iowa teenager who identified as both male and female, the Des Moines Register reported, in a case that had led U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to dispatch a federal civil rights prosecutor.

The jury deliberated for 90 minutes before returning the guilty verdict against Jorge Sanders-Galvez, 23, for shooting Kedarie Johnson, a 16-year-old high-school student who sometimes went by the name Kandicee, in March 2016, the newspaper reported.

Sanders-Galvez, who had testified he did not kill or even know Johnson, faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole under Iowa law.

“Justice was served for my baby!” Johnson’s mother, Katrina Johnson, said in the corridor outside the courtroom following the verdict, the newspaper reported.

Johnson’s family had said the teenager identified as both male and female, and prosecutors said Sanders-Galvez targeted Johnson partly for this reason.

Sanders-Galvez was charged in January with the murder alongside his cousin Jaron Purham, 26. Purham is awaiting trial.

Prosecutors said the cousins attacked Johnson after realizing he was a biological male during a sexual encounter.

Johnson’s body was discovered in a Burlington alley doused in bleach in an apparent effort to destroy DNA evidence, the Des Moines Register reported.

The case had been moved from Burlington, Iowa, to Keokuk because of pre-trial publicity.

The case drew national attention when Sessions assigned Christopher Perras, a Justice Department lawyer with the civil rights division, to join local prosecutors in the case.

Although Sessions, a conservative Republican, has generally opposed efforts to expand rights for gay, lesbian and transgender people, his department said he took the rare move of sending a prosecutor because of his commitment to “protecting the civil rights of all individuals.”

Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and Andrew Hay