Transgender defendant gets 3 years for killing bar patron

CeCe McDonald told court of pent-up rage before stabbing Dean Schmitz outside the Schooner Tavern.

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Supporters of Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald gathered at the Hennepin County Government Center. McDonald, who pleaded guilty last month to second-degree manslaughter, told the court Monday of pent-up rage that boiled over during the fight last June outside a bar.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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Chrishaun "CeCe" McDonald admitted Monday that an inner rage brewed long before an exchange of words that ended with the deadly stabbing of Dean Schmitz outside a bar in south Minneapolis last year.

The pressures of being transgendered -- namely, fear of rejection and of hostile reactions from others -- resulted in spite and hatefulness, said McDonald, who is transitioning from a man to a woman.

That pent-up fury exploded on the night of June 5, 2011, during an argument when McDonald stabbed the 47-year-old in the heart, killing him instantly.

But McDonald, who on Monday was sent to prison for 3 1/2 years, said the responsibility for what happened is mutual. "I'm sure that to Dean's family, he was a loving, caring person," McDonald, 24, told Judge Daniel Moreno. "But that is not what I saw that night. I saw a racist, transphobic, narcissistic bigot who did not have any regard for my friends and I."

McDonald will initially be housed as a man at the St. Cloud prison, corrections spokeswoman Sarah Russell said Monday. Then the state will make its own determination of McDonald's gender, an assessment that will involve reviewing "any and all collateral documentation and a physical and psychological evaluation," said Russell.

In the meantime, the state will house McDonald based on the inmate's safety and the well-being of others, she said, adding that dealing with gender uncertainty among inmates "is not a unique situation" for the department.

As of late January, there were 10 inmates in the state's corrections system who have been clinically confirmed by the state as having "a gender identity disorder."

Schmitz family speaks

A month after McDonald pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter, the sentencing hearing was the first time Schmitz's family spoke out during a year in which impassioned McDonald supporters have claimed that the attack and the ensuing charges smack of racism and discrimination against transgender people.

But Schmitz's family said that with all of the focus on McDonald, Schmitz, a father of three, has been forgotten as the true victim.

"Today is the one day that Dean Schmitz can have a voice," said Tammy Luhmenn, mother of his three grown sons.

"Dean loved his children, and at the hands of Chrishaun McDonald, he can never tell them again."

Slurs preceded deadly fight

McDonald was charged with second-degree murder after the melee outside the Schooner Tavern that occurred when Schmitz's group taunted McDonald's companions, who were black, with racist and homophobic slurs and a woman smashed a glass in McDonald's face, leaving a cut that required 11 stitches.

McDonald then stabbed Schmitz in the chest with a pair of scissors or a knife. He died at the scene.

McDonald received credit for 245 days' jail time, and must pay $6,400 in restitution for Schmitz's funeral expenses.

Requests for forgiveness

The courtroom was evenly divided between Schmitz's friends and family members and supporters of McDonald, who have rallied repeatedly at the Hennepin County Government Center and who spoke on McDonald's behalf on Monday.

Each side, although angry, extended requests for forgiveness and understanding.

Schmitz's longtime friend Thomas Nelson said that as ex-convicts who served prison time together, he and Schmitz "spent countless hours in the hate factory banging our collective heads against the wall."

Nelson acknowledged that his friend had a swastika tattoo on his stomach, which he called a key to survival in prison, but said it didn't represent who either of them were later.

"I walked away from a world of black and white to find the shades of gray in between," he said. "This is not the end."

Before sentencing, Moreno reminded McDonald that, despite the hateful words that instigated the fight that night, Schmitz was a man who was loved by his family and friends, and that he is now dead because of McDonald.

"Some have indicated that you feel a great deal of remorse for that," Moreno said. "I hope that's true, because that is the only thing that could make a difference in your future."

asimons@startribune.com • 612-673-4921 pwalsh@startribune.com • 612-673-4482

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