Plea deal ends protests over murder charge

  • Article by: JOY POWELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 2, 2012 - 10:50 PM

CeCe McDonald's case drew the interest of gay, lesbian and transgender organizations.

Over the past year, the prosecution of Chrishaun "CeCe" McDonald became a rallying point for gay, lesbian and transgender organizations demanding that second-degree murder charges against her be dropped.

But as a jury was being seated for her trial Wednesday, McDonald agreed to a deal that convicted her of manslaughter, rather than murder, in the fatal stabbing of a stranger outside a Minneapolis bar.

Last June, McDonald was walking with a group of friends past the Schooner Tavern, where Dean Schmitz, 47, and others were outside smoking. Prosecutors said words were exchanged, a fight broke out and McDonald stabbed Schmitz in the chest with a pair of scissors.

The plea to second-degree manslaughter came as 100 or so of McDonald's supporters gathered at the Hennepin County Government Center, still demanding the case be dropped. Her supporters said the June 5 confrontation included transgender and racial slurs directed at McDonald, 23, who has been transitioning from a man to a woman.

Prosecutors don't dispute there were slurs, but also point out that during her plea in Hennepin County District Court, McDonald agreed to stop claiming that the stabbing was in self-defense or accidental, and she also admitted that she could see that Schmitz did not have a weapon.

The case illustrates the criminal justice system's institutional biases toward the sexual orientation and race of McDonald, who is black, supporters said in a news conference just after the plea agreement. Last month, they delivered a petition with about 15,000 signatures to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, demanding that he drop the charges.

Last week, Freeman met with her supporters to hear their concerns over the two counts of second-degree murder filed against McDonald.

"He told them that several prosecutors, including himself, had looked at the case and had all come to the same conclusion, that it warranted a murder charge against Ms. McDonald," said Chuck Laszewski, spokesman for the attorney's office.

Laszewski said McDonald will be sentenced June 4, most likely to three years and five months in prison. She was being held Wednesday evening in the Hennepin County Jail.

'You stabbed me'

As the fight broke out, a woman allegedly threw a glass and cut McDonald's face. According to witnesses, Schmitz pulled McDonald out of the melee and said "You stabbed me." McDonald allegedly replied "Yes, I did" and walked away. Schmitz died at the scene of a stab wound to the heart area.

A witness reported seeing McDonald throw away scissors in a nearby supermarket parking lot.

In a videotaped interview with police, McDonald claimed that she took out scissors to scare Schmitz, but he "ran into them." McDonald later denied stabbing Schmitz, then switched to say she acted in self-defense.

As far as the woman who allegedly cut McDonald's face the night of the fight, Laszewski said, Hennepin County prosecutors have asked the Washington County Attorney's Office to handle any possible charges against her to avoid a conflict of interest.

Joy Powell • 651-925-5038

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