The following story is copyright The Boston Globe, 5/3/97.
SIBLING DECRIES MURDER ACQUITTAL: VERDICT IS ASSAULT IN TRANSSEXUAL’S DEATH
By Francie Latour, Globe Staff, 05/03/97
CAMBRIDGE – In a verdict that outraged advocates for gay and transsexual rights, a Middlesex Superior Court jury yesterday acquitted William C. Palmer of murder in the November 1995 death of Roman “Chanelle” Pickett, a transsexual who died in Palmer’s Watertown apartment after the two met in a gay bar. Ending two days of deliberation, the jury of six men and 10 women found Palmer guilty of assault and battery, despite testimony by a medical examiner that Pickett was strangled.
Yesterday, Pickett’s twin, 24-year-old Gabriel “Gabrielle” Pickett – who also is a transsexual and was a key prosecution witness – castigated jurors. “I have lost all faith in the system, and I think the judge and jury ought to be ashamed of themselves,” Gabriel Pickett said. “This sends a message to anyone who dates a transsexual that they can beat the person up, and it’s OK. You can say you didn’t know, you can say drugs were involved, you can make up any excuse and get away with it.”Palmer’s defense lawyers argued that he did not know Roman Pickett was a transsexual when the two met at the Playland Cafe near the Combat Zone. They said that Pickett later flew into a cocaine-induced rage when Palmer, realizing that Pickett was not a woman, rejected him.
But witnesses testified that Palmer, a computer programmer, routinely frequented gay bars and picked up transsexuals. A medical examiner also testified there were massive injuries to Pickett’s throat, and the levels of cocaine found in his body were too low to have contributed significantly to his death.
Dr. Stanton Kessler, the medical examiner, told the jury Pickett was “throttled” for at least eight minutes, his face was beaten, and bedding may have been stuffed into his throat.
Gabriel Pickett testified he and his brother met Palmer at the Playland Cafe the night of the murder. He said Palmer gave them a ride to the brothers’ home in Chelsea where they snorted cocaine, then Palmer and Roman Pickett left for Palmer’s apartment.
In a taped statement to police, Palmer said he put his hand over Pickett’s mouth and grabbed his throat, but Pickett bit his finger. Palmer said he hit Pickett with “a quick jab” to the jaw, sat on him for about 10 minutes, then went to bed.
“She was definitely breathing before I went to bed,” Palmer said in the statement, which was played to the jury. “I don’t know what happened. … She might have even [overdosed]. … All I know is that jab did not do it.”
When he identified his twin’s body, Gabriel Pickett said, “her face was so badly beaten, it looked like she had been beaten by more than one person.”
The assault and battery conviction is the least serious offense among the four options jurors considered – first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, and assault and battery.
The charge carries a maximum sentence of 2 1/2 years. Palmer will be sentenced during a hearing scheduled for May 15. Until yesterday, Gabriel Pickett said he “didn’t even know the assault and battery charge was even an option, not to mention that it would be the final verdict.”
Yesterday, prosecutor Adrienne Lynch said the verdict was disappointing. “The jury obviously had a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s actions caused the death, and that explains the verdict,” she said.
Palmer’s lawyer, Walter Prince, said the case “was not a commentary about sex or sexual preference, but about cocaine and a tragic accident.”
But advocates of gay and transsexual rights said the jurors were swayed by their own prejudiced notions about transsexuals, not the evidence in the case.
“In this case, it looks very much like money and homophobia bought the verdict,” said Nancy Nangeroni, who heads an organization called Transsexual Menace. “I mean, what does it take? Chanelle died by strangulation in the room of this guy, but because he had a fancy lawyer, he got off.
“It really speaks to the fact that being transsexual means being less of a person,” she said. “Rich, white boy kills poor black transsexual girl, and the white boy gets a slap on the wrist.” Palmer is white, Pickett is black.
Nangeroni said the issue of safety for transsexuals would top the agenda today at a Washington conference of transgender activists.
This story ran on page b1 of the Boston Globe on 05/03/97.