Attorney for Mpls. transgender murder suspect says new charge is 'retaliation'

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 7, 2011 - 9:31 AM

Prosecutors have filed an additional and more serious second-degree murder charge against a suspect accused of killing a man outside a Minneapolis bar, while the defendant's advocates say the move by the Hennepin County attorney's office is "retaliation" for refusing to accept a plea deal.

Chrishaun Reed "CeCe" McDonald, 23, who is a person in transition from a man to a woman, is now charged with second-degree intentional murder in the June 5 stabbing death of 47-year-old Dean Schmitz or Richfield outside the Schooner Tavern.

McDonald was freed from the Hennepin County jail Tuesday after advocates of transgender rights raised $7,500 to post bond. Those supporters again packed the courtroom for McDonald's appearance Thursday. Last month, Judge Daniel Moreno agreed to lower McDonald's bail from $150,000 to $75,000. McDonald remains on house arrest as a condition of release.

McDonald was charged with second-degree murder in Schmitz's death and maintains innocence. Prosecutors allege McDonald was among a group that encountered Schmitz and other bar patrons shortly after midnight in a clash that started with Schmitz's remarks, according to the charges.

McDonald allegedly told police that Schmitz charged and ran into scissors that McDonald was holding, the complaint added.

McDonald later denied stabbing Schmitz and said in a letter from jail to the Star Tribune that the confession was "a big mistake" of covering for a friend who did it, though McDonald isn't sure who that was. In the letter, McDonald also characterized Schmitz's remarks as racist and homophobic.

McDonald turned down an offer by prosecutors to plead guilty to first-degree manslaughter and serve seven years in prison.

Michael Friedman, executive director of the Legal Rights Center, whose attorney Hersh Izek is representing McDonald, said amending the charge when there's no new information in the criminal complaint "cannot be interpreted as anything other than retaliation against the defendant for exercising her constitutional right to go to trial."

County Attorney spokesman Chuck Laszewski said prosecutors said from the beginning they would likely add another charge if the case went to trial.

"When the settlement negotiations didn't go anywhere and we had to begin to prepare for trial, that's when we added the charge," he said. "There's nothing unusual about that."

Katie Burgess, executive director of the Trans Youth Support Network, said McDonald's release is considered a victory for supporters, who raised the required 10 percent to post bail. McDonald can now lead supporters who continue to protest the charges.

"We're happy to have her out for as long as possible and, best-case scenario, we'd like to see these charges dropped," Burgess said. "But if they're not dropped, we're glad to have her with her family and friends."

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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