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The LGBT Hate Crimes Project: Chanelle Pickett

When Chanelle Pickett was working at NYNEX in Brookline, MA, I was working at HRC in Washington, DC. While Chanelle Pickett was being harassed and fired for being transgender, I was working on ENDA, among other things. While Channelle Pickett was unable to find work and turning to prostitution as a means of survival, I was working at HRC, trying to pass a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that did not include gender identity. But that’s a historical matter now.

That was over 10 years ago. I don’t know what I was doing on November 19, 1995, the night that Pickett met with her killer, William C. Palmer. They already knew each other, and Pickett’s sister said Pickett liked Palmer, and thought of him not just as a “trick” but as potential relationship material. I don’t know what I was doing the moment Palmer strangled Pickett death, apparently consensual sex that resulted in Pickett’s semen and Palmer’s saliva being found on his jeans afterward. Do the math and you’ll probably guess that Palmer clearly knew Pickett was transgender.

I don’t know what I was doing the exact moment that Palmer “sat on” Pickett for 10 minutes, strangled and struck her, and stuffed part of a comforter down her throat (no doubt to stifle her screams). I don’t know what I was doing that exact night, while Palmer slept for six hours with Pickett’s body in his bed before he called his lawyer, who then called the police; or what I was doing the morning after, when the police arrived to find Pickett lying in a pool of blood.

Whatever I was doing, it wasn’t enough to help protect Pickett from the workplace discrimination that helped put her on the path to Palmer’s fatal embrace. I don’t know what I was doing, either, on May 3, 1997, when a jury acquitted Palmer of murder and merely convicted him of assault and battery. Nor do I remember what I was doing on May 15, 1997, when the judge sentenced Palmer — after acknowledging the brutality of the “beating” meted out to Pickett — to 2 1/2 year in prison, and then suspended the last six months of the sentence.

Most of us probably don’t remember what we were doing that long ago. But we’re still debating ENDA and gender identity, ten years later. Are we we much closer now to preventing stories like what happened to Chanelle Pickett from happening today.

Chanelle Pickett (1972 – November 20, 1995, an African American transgender woman, died on November 20, 1995, in Watertown, MA, at the home of William C. Palmer. Palmer claimed he defended himself against Pickett when she became angry after he discovered she was transgender and rejected her.

The Background

Free Image Hosting at allyoucanupload.comPickett and her sister Gabrielle – also a transgender woman – were employed at NYNEX, in Brookline, MA, until she was allegedly fired for being transgender and for standing up to sexual harassment from her co-workers.1) Pickett was transferred to a different department, but the harassment continued and both Pickett and her sister were fired. Unable to find work and having exhausted saving accounts, both sisters turned to prostitution in order to survive.2)

On November 19, Pickett, 23, and her twin sister Gabrielle – also a transgender woman – met William C. Palmer, 35, at the Playland Cafe, a popular club with a large transgender clientèle. Palmer was known to have frequented Playland, and several transgender women who patronized the club claimed to have had sexual encounters with him.3) The three of them left the club and went to the sister’s apartment, where the three drank and used cocaine that Palmer, a computer programer for Unisys, purchased at Playland earlier. After 90 minutes, Pickett and Palmer departed for his apartment in Watertown, MA. 4)

The Attack

Palmer testified in court that he and Pickett smoked crack cocaine at his apartment. Pickett began to give him oral sex, when he discovered she was transgender and demanded she leave the apartment. Palmer then claimed that Pickett became angry, screaming “God will never die” and “the devil is king,” and attacked him. Palmer said he “sat on” Pickett in order to “stabilize” her, but that she was still breathing when he released her.5) Palmer’s roommates heard Pickett’s screams coming from Palmer’s room as she was beaten.6)

The Aftermath


Palmer slept with Pickett’s body for six hours before turning himself in to a lawyer who then notified the police.7) In a taped statement to police, Palmer said that he put his hand over Pickett’s mouth and grabbed her throat, but Picket bit his finger and he he hit her with a “quick jab” to the jaw and “sat on her” for about 10 mintues.8)

Police found Pickett at Palmer’s residence, lying in a pool of blood. An autopsy showed that blood had accumulated in Pickett’s lungs and brain. Along with this evidence, hemorrhages on Pickett’s neck lead a medical examiner to conclude that Pickett had been strangled, and suffocated with a piece of cloth, for at least eight to ten minutes.

Investigators found a stain on Palmer’s jeans containing semen and saliva. Tests showed that the saliva could have been Palmer’s but the semen could not. The results were consistent with Picket ejaculating in Palmer’s mouth and Palmer then spitting out the ejaculate onto his jeans.9)

Trial, Conviction & Sentencing

On December 1, 1995, Palmer pleaded not guilty to Pickett’s murder, and was released on a $50,000 cash bond. The Middlesex district attorney requested that Palmer be held without bail. As a compromise, Palmer was required to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet, submit to random drug testing, meet with a probation officer each week, and avoid any witnesses in the case.10)

At trial, Dr. Stanley Kessler, a medical examiner, testified that Pickett had been throttled for at least eight minutes and that bedding may have been stuffed into her throat.11) Kessler testified that the cocaine levels in Pickett’s system were not enough to have caused her death. Kessler showed the jury photographs of a blood-smeared comforter that he said was puckered in one section, as though it had been “shoved down someone’s throat.” Kessler said that when he examined Pickett, blood was coming from her nose and mouth, which was consistent with strangulation.12)

On May 3, 1997, a jury acquitted Palmer of murder and instead found him guilty of assault and battery.13)

On May 16, 1997, Palmer was sentenced to two years in prison.14)

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