Getting Away With Murder - Chanelle Pickett's killer may be acquitted on homophobic defense

by Pamela Prasarttongosoth

Chanelle had told Natoyear Sherarrion, her friend of eight years,
that she had been having nightmares that someone was going to hurt
her, reported in newsweekly. Shortly thereafter, on Monday, November
20, Chanelle was found in the Watertown home of William Palmer, a 34
year old computer programmer, who allegedly strangled her to death.
	Palmer met with Roman Chanelle Pickett, a transgendered Black
woman, and her twin sister, Gabrielle, at Playland one of Bostons
original gay bars frequented mainly by men and drag queens located on
Essex Street in the Combat Zone. Chanelle and Palmer had been seeing
each other for some time and they had met at Playland on a number of
occasions. Afterwards, all three went to Chanelle's apartment in
Chelsea where she and Palmer snorted cocaine. Then, Palmer took
Chanelle back to his home in Watertown where he strangled her to death
in the early hours of the morning. Palmer slept for six hours with
Chanelle's dead body lying beside his bed before he turned himself in
to a lawyer who informed the police.
	Palmer is a regular drug user and drugs may have been involved
in the murder of Chanelle. Both powder and crack cocaine were found at
the scene of the crime.
	Nonetheless, with all of the evidence stacked against Palmer,
he entered a not guilty plea to Judge Gregory Flynn of the Waltham
District Court who released him on Friday, December 1, on a $50,000
cash bond. It is highly unusual for murderers to be released on
bail. In light of Palmer's situation he was seen leaving Playland with
Chanelle and her body was found in his home it seems extremely
unreasonable that he would not be held behind bars until his case goes
to trial.
	The Middlesex District Attorney asked that Palmer be held
without bail because of the seriousness of his offense. As a
compromise, Palmer is required to wear an electronic monitoring
bracelet, be subjected to random drug testing, meet with a probation
officer weekly, and is barred from contact with any witnesses in his
case. A status hearing is scheduled for December 19, but Palmer will
most likely be indicted for murder by a grand jury before that date
and face the possibility of receiving a life sentence for his
crime. The murder is not being treated as a hate crime however, which
would carry a weightier treatment by the D.A. and the threat of a
harsher punishment.
	Chanelle, a native of New York, was only 23 when she was
brutally killed. Friends say that she really liked Palmer and wanted
to have a more serious relationship with him. Palmer had written a
letter to Chanelle expressing his affection for her. He had promised
to help her get back on her feet and to take care of her, Veronica
Caoile told in newsweekly. Earlier in the year, Chanelle had been
fired from her job at NYNEX, allegedly because of her transsexualism
and because she stood up to co-workers who subjected her to gender
	For his defense case, Palmer is claiming that the murder of
Chanelle was justified, saying that he did not know she was male until
the night of the murder. Murderers often use the homosexual panic
defense to justify the killing of gay people. They claim that they are
overwhelmed with an uncontrollable rage as a result of the fact that
their victims made passes at them. Reportedly, half of all homicides
based on anti-gay or -lesbian bias have resulted from a pick-up
situation. Overall, the problem of murders based on homophobic
sentiment looms large: on record, 59 people were killed in 1994
because they were perceived as lesbian or gay. However, the actual
number of anti-gay bias related deaths is probably much higher because
there is a significant amount of underreporting of hate crimes against
queers, people of color, and women.
	While the psychiatric profession and legal experts have
discredited this line of defense, offenders continue to use it because
it serves the purpose of establishing their heterosexuality and also
rouses homophobic sentiment amongst members of the jury. A clever
defense lawyer can paint a picture of the victim of the murder as a
predatory homosexual monster who dupes his or her prey into having
sex. In reality, though, having someone express a romantic interest in
you is no reason to get worked up in the slightest and is certainly no
justification for murder. What would happen if lesbians and gays
killed every ignorant, heterosexist man or woman who made sexual
advances towards them?
	Chanelle's friends are wary of reporters because of the
media's unfair presentation of the murder, something which has also
angered transgendered activists. They organized a candlelight vigil
onSunday, December 10 at the Arlington Street Church in Boston in
Chanelle's memory. Chanelle's murder has been and most likely will be
treated unfairly by the police, legal system, and the media because
she was a transgendered Black woman.
	Neither the police nor the mainstream media have highlighted
Palmer's sexuality. Instead they have portrayed him as an average
white-collar guy who was an upstanding member of his community. On the
other side, they have failed to portray Chanelle as a human being who
was a valued member of society. In a front-page story, the Boston
Herald described Palmer as a polite, clean-cut preppy. The article
went on to describe the murder sympathetically, as the only natural
reaction any self-respecting, red-blooded, heterosexual man would
	If Palmer is set free, it will only confirm the twisted
societal message that a gay person's life, a drag queen's life
especially that of a Black drag queen is worthless. Murdering certain
people is acceptable; some people are expendable and not worth
defending. If we are to believe Palmer's story, his attraction to
Chanelle, and Chanelle's very existence as another human being on this
planet, upset his white-collar sensibilities to the point where her
death was both justifiable and necessary.
	Sherarrion expressed sadness and anger about Chanelle's murder
and the fact that her young life was cut short so violently, telling
in newsweekly, She was a good, sweet, loving person. She didn't get
her chance to shine. God didn't take my Chanelle, he [Palmer]
did...and he won't get the punishment he deserves.

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