JaParker Jones murder: Vigil held for slain transgender woman
On a bitterly cold Saturday night, they gathered near a quiet Metrobus stop in Northeast D.C. to mark a sad and tragic anniversary: the fatal stabbing of JaParker Jones, a transgender woman.
"Our hearts are still heavy, filled with grief," Alvin Bethea, Jones' father says. "Coping with this has been very, very difficult."
The vigil was held at East Capitol and Sycamore streets, just feet from where the attack took place, and drew friends, family, and District leaders.
"She was a lover, she was a giver. She was a provider," one speaker told the crowd of about 100 people.
Jones' death and the arrest of 55-year-old Gary Montgomery has shaken the LGBT community to its core.
"It was sort of shocking to us," recalls Elodie Huttner, whose partner is a transgender woman. "It was sort of a wake-up call between idealism and reality."
One year ago, Jones, who was 23, was stabbed while waiting for a bus to visit friends. He died at the hospital the next day.
Witness accounts and surveillance video of a "person of interest" helped police to track down Montgomery.
Initially arrested on a second-degree murder charge, he now faces a charge of first-degree murder.
"He was sitting there," Bethea says. "The individual came across the street and just stabbed him. Stabbed him in the head."
A witness told police he saw Montgomery before the attack. She appeared to be drunk or high and was staring at Jones.
"We think that he saw that Japarker was transgender and he exhibited hate," Bethea says.
But family members say prosecutors have declined to file hate crime charges against Montgomery. They want the U.S. Justice Department to investigate and take over the case, but that may not be easy.
"Intent or motive is difficult to prove in any murder investigation, much less in a hate crime situation," says Reverend Lori McPherson of the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, who is also a Justice Department policy advisor.
While not commenting on this specific case, she says defining a hate crime can be difficult.
"It really depends on how the law was written and the particular jurisdiction and what's the evidence in the case look like, whether it's workable," she says.
Investigators say a motive is unclear. Many at the vigil believe questions about handling of the case need to be asked.
"I think all the facts should be put on the table," says D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. "And then a decision rendered as to why or why not this is or is not a hate crime."
The U.S. Attorney's Office is declining to comment, but sources tell ABC7 to win a "hate crime" conviction, prosecutors would have had to prove Montgomery killed Jones because he was transgender.
If he is convicted, Montgomery faces a life sentence.
Sources tell ABC7 a "hate crime" conviction wouldn't add to his jail time.
Jones' family knows getting that conviction will be difficult.
"Not only is it the hardest crime to prove, I don't think people want to accept it, " says Jacqueline Champion, Jones's aunt.
It's unclear when the case will go to trial.