An investigation is underway to determine if the stabbing death of a transgender woman in Mississippi should be prosecuted as a hate crime.
A US Navy sailor has been charged with her murder. KTVQ reported that 20-year-old Dwanya Hickerson was denied bond during his arraignment hearing on Wednesday. Hickerson has been training at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi since April.
Police say he stabbed a 25-year-old nurse from Hattiesburg in the face after robbing her last Saturday night. Dee Whigham was reportedly staying at a St. Martin hotel with friends and coworkers, while in town for the Gulf Coast Black Rodeo.
Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell told the Sun Herald that surveillance video shows the Navy seaman leaving the Best Western hotel, the night of the killing.
It’s unclear whether Whigham and Hickerson met earlier that night at the rodeo and it’s also unclear whether Whigham was being targeted because of her gender identity or sexual orientation.
Whatever the motivation, this is a capital murder case and that charge carries a maximum penalty of death. Ezell said, “If this turns out to be a hate crime, we will pursue this to the fullest in court.”
The hospital where Whigham worked released the following statement after news of her death: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Dee Whigham as they try to make sense of this terrible tragedy…She will be remembered at Forrest Health as an excellent nurse who was well-loved by her patients.”
Family members say Whigham fought hard to get through school and was making strides to become more self- sufficient.
A vigil, held in her honor this week, was organized by a nonprofit group that “advocates for full inclusion and empowerment of people affected by discrimination.”
The executive director of the Rainbow Center said, “We want to make sure this person is remembered for who they are.”
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