Fatal Beating of Transgender Woman Ruled a Homicide

By Jeff MaysBen Fractenberg and Aidan Gardiner  on August 23, 2013 11:50am  | Updated on August 23, 2013 4:43pm

 Islan Nettles, 21, a transgender woman, was beaten in Harlem on Saturday and died of her injuries five days later, police said.
Islan Nettles, 21, a transgender woman, was beaten in Harlem on Saturday and died of her injuries five days later, police said.
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HARLEM — The fatal beating of a transgender woman in Harlem was ruled a homicide Friday afternoon, according to the Medical Examiner's office.

The determination came as the suspect in the assault, released on $2,000 bail a day after the incident, remained free on bail, prosecutors said.

According to the ME, Islan Nettles, 21, died as a result of blunt impact injuries to her head in a brutal assault just steps away from a police stationhouse on Frederick Douglass Boulevard and 148th Street.

Paris Wilson, 20, was arrested Aug. 17 and released the next day after leaving Nettles unconscious earlier that morning, according to a criminal complaint and the Department of Correction website.

Wilson returned to court on Thursday, where prosecutors told Criminal Court Judge Erika Edwards the injuries were worse than initially believed and that Nettles was likely to be removed from life support soon.

It was unclear whether prosecutors asked for additional bail on Thursday, but they said an arraignment court judge had shot down their earlier attempts to have him held on $7,500 bail on Saturday.

Sources said Wilson was not considered a flight risk. Wilson's court-appointed lawyer did not immediately respond to calls for comment.

But prosecutors said they're still investigating whether to increase the charges against Wilson from misdemeanor assault in light of Nettles's death.

They said another person walked into a police precinct stationhouse following the attack and made "incriminating statements" to cops. They did not reveal the identity of the second person or say whether that person had been questioned by prosecutors. 

Calls to the judge's chambers were not immediately returned, but David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the Office of Court Administration, said that the suspect was only facing a misdemeanor charge and was a college student with no arrest record.

"In New York State, bail can only be used to ensure that defendants return for their next court date," he said. "He returned to court for his next court date. Clearly, the bail was sufficient."

Nettles, 21, was taken off life support Thursday at Harlem Hospital after being declared brain dead.

Nettles and a group of transgender women were out Friday night around 11 p.m. when they ran into a group of men in front of 2770 Frederick Douglass Blvd. at 148th Street, according to the criminal complaint. The NYPD's PSA 6 housing unit stationhouse is located directly across the street.

Once the men discovered that Nettles and her friends were transgender, Wilson began hurling homophobic slurs and began to punch Nettles repeatedly in the face, according to police and prosecutors.

"Once on the ground, the defendant continued to strike (Nettles) in the face," the complaint read.

A police officer from the housing bureau's Police Service Area 6 precinct, which patrols 18 public housing developments in the area, saw Nettles "unconscious on the ground with a swollen shut eye and blood on her face," according to the complaint.

Wilson is due back in court Oct. 6, when his case could be presented to a grand jury.

Carmen Neely, president of Harlem Pride, said a $2,000 cash bail sends the wrong message to the LGBT community.

"Hell no, that's not enough for a possible hate crime," said Neely. "This bail sends the message that our transgender brothers and sisters are not valued."

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