In the five days following the murder of Bella
The amazing thing about Emonie Spaulding’s murder was that the police and the prosecution seemed not to think that Spaulding’s murder was bias motivated. In fact, they were at a loss to imagine a motive for the crime until the moment the defense attorney stood up in court and gave them one.
Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much time reading and writing about these cases, and I realize I’m looking at it from a vantage point of having more information than police or prosecutors had at the time. But when you have one murder of a transgender woman followed by the murder of a second five days later, and this second is found nude, tossed onto a grassy area just 7 feet from the street, shot and having obviously sustained serious head wounds, how do you end up with the police saying it’s “unclear” whether sex work or a “sex-related discovery” was a factor in the murder, especially when sex work was a factor in the murder that happened just five days earlier?
And how do you have a a prosecutor, in the face of all the above, actually say “To this day, we don’t know what the motive was”?
No one will eve know exactly what happened in between Spaulding and Lewis from the time she entered his vehicle until the time her body was removed from it, or when and how was stripped of her clothing. At gunpoint, under Lewis’ orders, before she was shot? By Lewis, after she was shot? Lewis’s attorney said he became angry upon learning that Spaulding was transgender, that they fought, and that he pointed the gun at her in order to make her get out of the vehicle.
But if they fought, why did police only find a small scratch on Lewis, not enough to be the source of the amount of blood found in the car, while Spaulding had severe head injuries? Did Lewis have injuries that were not reported?
Why was Spaulding found nude? Did Lewis force her to strip at gunpoint, upon discovering she was transgender, and then shoot her? Or was his intention to humiliate her by forcing her to strip, get out of the car, and then leave her that way as he drove off with her clothes? Or was his intention to humiliate her posthumously by shooting her, then removing her clothes, and then leaving her body publicly displayed?
Either way, there’s no mention that the gun went off accidentally. So, whatever happened, Lewis got angry, pointed the gun, and pulled the trigger because he learned that Emonie Spaulding was transgender.
Emonie Spaulding (1977 – August 21, 2003) was an African American transgender woman from Washington, D.C. On August 21, 2003, she was shot to death by Derrick Antwan Lewis after Lewis discovered Spaulding was transgender.
Spaulding, 26, had live in Washington D.C. for two years, and had previously lived in Springfield, MA, and Henderson, NC. Her uncle, John Marshall, remembered her as a child who enjoyed music and sang in the church choir. She was part of a group of friends who frequented an apartent on Mellon Street SE, and the players lounge, a nightclub in southeast D.C.1)
Spaulding was last seen at 1:15 a.m. on August 21, leaving the Mellon Street apartment, headed to a 24-hour convenience store. At 2:00 a.m., police received report of gunshots being heard in the area of Second Street and Malcolm X Avenue SE.2) Upon responding to the call, police found Spaulding’s nude body in a grassy area seven feet from the street. Spaulding had been shot in the left arm and in the chest.3) Spaulding also suffered severe blows to the head.4) No clothing or shell casings were found near Spaulding’s body, leading police to believe she had been shot elsewhere and brought to the location. 5) Her clothing was discovered the next day, dumped on a nearby street.6)
Spaulding was declared dead at the scene, and was identified at the scene by friends. Her uncle was unable to confirm her identity from the photo he was shown at the medical examiner’s office.7)
Spaulding was the second transgender woman to be shot, and the second to be killed, in D.C. in less than six days. Her murder came just five days after Bella Evangelista was shot and killed. Dee Andre, another transgender woman, was shot and wounded on the same day as Spaulding.8)
Investigators got their first break in the case upon discovering that Spaulding’s phone had been stolen at the time of the murder. A witness who knew Spaulding informed police of her phone number. Police traced calls placed from the phone and discovered a call was made six minutes after the 911 call reporting gunshots in the area where Spaulding’s body was found, leading to the identification of a suspect in Spaulding’s murder.9)
The call was placed to a Maryland woman who loaned her car to Lewis on the night Spaulding was killed. The woman told investigators that she had let Lewis borrow her car that night, and that the front area of the car was spattered with blood when he returned it.10) When he returned the car, Lewis explained to the owner that the blood came from a cut on his hand, received in a fight at a strip club.11) However, DNA analysis linked the blood spots to Spaulding, and fibers pulled from Spaulding’s clothing were a likely match for the carpet in the car.
The woman also told police that her .38 caliber revolver was missing. Investigators believed, based on bullets recovered from Spaulding’s body, that the weapon used in her murder could have been a .38.12) Lewis also had carried a gun because he worked in a strip club, and part of his job was to escort dancers to their cars.13)
Arrest, Arraignment & Release
On August 26, police raided a house in search of Lewis, but missed finding him. Lewis surrendered himself later that day at the headquarters of the D.C. police violent crimes unit. He was charged with second degree murder, and scheduled for arraignment the following day. Police said there was no evidence of premediation, which is required for a first degree murder charge.14) Police also said it was unclear whether prostitution or a sex-related discovery had played a role in Spaulding’s murder.15)
On August 27, over the objections of police and proseutors, a D.C. Superior Court judge ordered Lewis released on his own recognizance to await trial. The judge noted that Lewis had no prior criminal record, was employed at the time of his arrest, and was not a flight risk due to longstanding ties to the community.16)
Plea & Sentencing
On March 26, Lewis pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter while armed, saying that he did not want to inflict any further pain on Spaulding’s family.17) Prosecutors did not allege bias as a motive in Spaulding’s murder, as had been done in Bella Evangelista’s murder. The motive remained undefined until Lewis defense attorney spoke at the hearing. His attorney said that Lewis became angry upon discovering that Spaulsing was transgender, and the two began fighting in the car. Lewis, his attorney said, drew the gun in order to force Spaulding out of the car.
Lewis was sentenced to 10 years in prison. D.C.’s non-mandatory sentencing guidelines called for a sentence of 7 1/2 to 15 years.18)