California Man Sentenced to Death for Killing Trans Cellmate

The inmates shared a cell for about eight hours.

A California man was sentenced to death Thursday for killing his transgender cellmate at Kern Valley State Prison, NBC affilate KGET reports. The inmates had shared a cell for about eight hours.

Miguel Crespo, 48, bound, gagged, and tortured Carmen Guerrero, a trans female being housed in the men’s prison, before choking her to death on October 13, 2013.

Crespo admitted to correctional officers at the time that he had murdered Guerrero because she was trans. He had reportedly warned the CO on duty that he would kill Guerrero if forced to bunk with her.

Before the court proceedings began, Crespo made it clear that he is not gay and that he had told prison officials he was incompatible with a trans inmate. “I had a restriction not to be housed with a [gay expletive],” he said.

California has banned use of the so-called “gay panic” or “trans panic” defense, which means defendants are not allowed to blame violence on a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Finding Crespo guilty of first-degree murder and assault by a life prisoner, a jury recommended that he be sentenced to death.

After Crespo said he could not afford to pay the victim restitution fine, Judge John Oglesby imposed the minimum fine of $300, rather than the $10,000 maximum. “Three hundred is fine, judge,” Crespo said, laughing.

At the time of Guerrero’s murder, Crespo was serving a life sentence for a 1993 murder in Los Angeles County.

Last year the Trump administration rolled back Obama-era protections that had allowed trans inmates to use facilities matching their gender identity, including cell blocks and bathrooms.

Federal law previously required housing and other prison services for trans people to be determined based on case-by-case decision, not solely by genitalia or gender assigned at birth. These regulations were established in 2012 as part of the Prison Rape Elimination Act to help protect trans prisoners from sexual assault.

Policy guidelines now instruct prison officials to “use biological sex as the initial determination for designation” for housing assignments, strip searches, medical care, and other services. These new guidelines make it easier for federal officials to place trans women in cells alongside men, which LGBTQ advocates argue puts trans inmates at a greater risk for sexual assault.

The California Senate passed a bill in May that would require trans prisoners to be housed according to their gender identity, but the bill has not been signed into law.

According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, trans individuals are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of the general public.

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