A Brooklyn man was charged Tuesday for the killing of 21-year-old transgender woman Islan Nettles, nearly two years after confessing to the brutal beating in Harlem.
Prosecutor Nicholas Viorst told DNAinfo that James Dixon, 24, was among a group of seven men who happened upon Nettles and two friends the night of Aug. 17., 2013 on Frederick Douglass Boulevard, near 148th Street. When Dixon learned Nettles was transgender, prosecutors say, "a fight broke out":
Dixon punched Nettles in the face, making her to fall to the ground and strike her head on the sidewalk, causing a serious brain injury, said Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Viorst.
Viorst alleges that Dixon brutally beat Nettles and "struck her repeatedly as she lay on the ground" while "driving the side of her head into the pavement."
The indictment charges that Dixon used the sidewalk as a "dangerous instrument" to cause Nettles' death.
Nettles was attacked across the street from an NYPD housing bureau precinct. She was found unconscious by police and taken to Harlem Hospital, where she later slipped into a coma. Her mother took her off life support Aug. 20.
Police initially arrested Paris Wilson, 20, for the assault on Nettles, after a number of witnesses misidentified him as the attacker—prosecutors say the two bear "a striking resemblance."
Days later, Dixon apparently went to Wilson's home to admit his involvement; Wilson's mother then escorted Dixon to a police station, where he confessed to the crime, but was not arrested. At the time, police said without witness statements or surveillance footage to corroborate his claim, they were unable to charge him. Wilson was eventually released and the charges dropped against him.
Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan District Attorney, the Times reports, opted not to seek a hate crime charge:
Asked why the district attorney did not seek a hate-crime indictment, Joan Vollero, a spokeswoman for Mr. Vance, said that "the grand jury considered all of the available evidence when making its charging decision." She did not elaborate.
A hate-crime indictment would have required the prosecution to prove Mr. Dixon's motive for killing Ms. Nettles was that she was transgender. Investigators have not been able to determine what was said before the first blow was struck, law enforcement officials said.
It's unclear what new evidence or witness testimony surfaced in the intervening months that led to Dixon's arrest and indictment by a grand jury for manslaughter. Dixon pleaded not guilty.