New York High Court Agrees to Hear Appeal In Lateisha Green Case

Lateisha Green

TLDEF today lauded the New York Court of Appeals’ announcement that it will consider an appeal in “The People v. Dwight R. DeLee” and renewed its call for the high court to reinstate the jury’s verdict and Dwight DeLee’s conviction of manslaughter in the first degree as a hate crime for the 2008 killing of Syracuse resident Lateisha “Teish” Green, a 22-year old African American transgender woman.

Green died November 14, 2008 after she was shot outside a house party in Syracuse. Evidence at trial demonstrated that DeLee shot her because he believed she was gay. A jury found DeLee guilty of manslaughter in the first degree as a hate crime in July of 2009 and in August of that year he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the crime. It was the first time a New York jury had delivered a hate crime conviction in the killing of a transgender person. It was only the second hate crime conviction in the nation stemming from the killing of a transgender person. The jury reached the first degree manslaughter as a hate crime verdict after determining that DeLee had targeted Green based on his perception of her sexual orientation, which is a protected category under New York’s hate crimes law.

But this past July the conviction was set aside by The New York Supreme Court’s 4th Appellate Division because of what the court viewed as an “inconsistent” verdict: The jury found DeLee guilty of first degree manslaughter as a hate crime, but not guilty of first degree manslaughter. The 4th Appellate Division tossed out the conviction, concluding that jury confusion about the judge’s instructions led to a conflicting verdict.

“We strongly disagreed with the 4th Appellate Division’s conclusion and are extremely pleased that New York’s highest court has agreed to consider the appeal,” said Michael Silverman, TLDEF’s executive director. “We believe the jury reached a proper verdict based on its understanding of the Judge’s instructions, viewing first degree manslaughter alone as a lesser offense and therefore choosing ‘not guilty’ on that charge, but concluding that first degree manslaughter as a hate crime was the correct verdict, and therefore convicting DeLee on that charge.” In October, TLDEF and several other LGBT and civil rights organizations, including Lambda Legal, the Empire State Pride Agenda, the Anti-Defamation League and The New York City Anti-Violence Project, filed an amicus brief with the New York Court of Appeals, respectfully urging that judicial body to reverse the 4th Appellate Division’s ruling and reinstate Dwight DeLee’s conviction.

The brief read in part: ...“vacating that conviction would be a grave miscarriage of justice that would subvert the jury’s plain intent,” and “Allowing the person who shot Lateisha Green to walk free would frustrate the purpose of New York’s Hate Crimes Law, working in exact opposition to the Legislature’s two stated goals of enhancing punishment and deterring future hate crimes. And it would dishonor Ms. Green’s memory but also cause her family unfathomable grief by revoking the solace they had in knowing that her killer had been brought to justice.”

The brief was part of an overall push by the New York LGBT and allied community to stand together with the family of Teish Green, and speak out about the gross injustice. Green’s family was devastated and angry about the conviction reversal, but following today’s news from the New York Court of Appeals, they feel renewed hope about the chances for a better final outcome.

“I was outraged that our daughter’s killer was released from prison on a technicality,” said Roxanne Green, the mother of Teish Green. “Now I feel some relief that New York’s highest court will review this case. I want justice for Teish.” 

The New York Court of Appeals has set a briefing schedule through April 8, 2014.