Minneapolis, MN - Jury selection for Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald’s trial began May 1, amidst a national outcry. On April 30, national figures Mara Keisling, founding Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality and Leslie Feinberg, author of Stone Butch Blues, flew into Minneapolis to attend the first scheduled day of McDonald’s trial. In an open letter calling on Michael Freeman to cease prosecution of McDonald, Feinberg commented, “The right of self-defense against all forms of oppressions - the spirit of Stonewall - is at the heart of the demand to free [McDonald].” Mara Keisling echoed this sentiment, stating, “People are being killed out there, and CeCe is being punished for not being killed.”
On April 27, over 40 supporters overflowed McDonald’s pre-trial evidentiary hearing, in which Judge Moreno heard motions regarding what evidence will be allowed in trial. Although Judge Moreno ruled that McDonald supporters will not be allowed to wear “Free CeCe” t-shirts or anti-swastika buttons in court, supporters were not deterred, and overflowed the court room again April 30 for the continuation of the hearing.
Most notably, Judge Moreno sustained a motion from the prosecution to exclude the deceased’s criminal record, which includes three assault convictions. Schmitz was convicted of assaulting his ex-girlfriend, his ex-girlfriend’s 14-year old daughter and his ex-girlfriend’s father. Judge Moreno has yet to rule whether the swastika tattoo on the deceased’s chest will be admitted into the trial, either in photos or testimony. Judge Moreno refused to approve the defense’s request for expert witness to testify about climate of violence transgender people navigate in Minneapolis and nationally. He has yet to rule on whether an expert witness can educate the jury about what the word “transgender” means.
McDonald’s defense argued that the deceased’s prior assault convictions, the swastika tattoo and expert testimony about the incredibly disproportionate level of violence transgender people face provides crucial context to the case by demonstrating that McDonald had reason to fear for her life on June 5, 2011. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported in 2010 that “transgender women made up 44% of the 27 hate murders in the United States, while representing only 11% of total survivors and victims.”
Also noteworthy, in the April 30 continuation of the pre-trial hearing, the prosecution stated that no weapon had been recovered from the scene on the night of June 5 and that it remains unclear what the weapon that caused the deceased’s fatal wound was.