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Iowa Murder Trial to Open in Gender Identity Case Flagged by Sessions

by Reuters /
Attorney General Jeff Sessions Receives Award From The Sergeants Benevolent Association of New York City
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks during an event at the Justice Department May 12, 2017 in Washington, DC.Win McNamee / Getty Images

A man charged in the murder of an Iowa teenager who identified as both male and female is scheduled to go on trial Tuesday in a case that led Attorney General Jeff Sessions to dispatch a federal civil rights prosecutor.

Kedarie Johnson, 16, a Burlington, Iowa, high school student who occasionally went by the name Kandicee, was shot to death in March 2016. Johnson's family told local papers that the teen had identified as both male and female.

Prosecutors have alleged that the killing was related to Johnson's gender identification.

Jorge Sanders-Galvez, 23, and Jaron Purham, 26, were charged in January in the murder. Sanders-Galvez' trial is due to begin on Tuesday in Keokuk, Iowa.

Curtis Dial, an attorney for Sanders-Galvez, said on Monday that his client maintained his innocence. He said the case had been moved from Burlington because of pre-trial publicity.

Purham's attorney could not be reached on Monday for comment.

The case drew national attention when Sessions assigned Christopher Perras, a Justice Department lawyer with the civil rights division, to join local prosecutors in the case.

Justice department spokesman Devin O'Malley said in a statement on Monday that Sessions had directed civil rights attorneys to focus on cases involving transgender people who were murdered.

O'Malley declined to say if federal prosecutors were weighing federal charges.

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