MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — Prosecutors asked a judge Friday for more time to figure out who is actually responsible for the beating death of transgender Harlem woman Islan Nettles.
Paris Wilson, 20, who is facing misdemeanor assault charges in relation to the Aug. 17 attack, was in court Friday. The Manhattan District Attorney's office has not been able to take his case before a grand jury, or charge anyone else, because they need more witnesses to come forward to help make a case.
"As of today, we are not ready to take the case to a grand jury," Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Viorst told Criminal Court Judge Tamiko Amaker.
After Wilson was arrested in the case, his mother brought another man to police who confessed to the crime, but claimed not to remember much because he was intoxicated. Police initially believed the confession of the second man to be false.
Prosecutors are certain only one person fatally assaulted Nettles, but different witnesses have identified different suspects. Some identified Wilson as the person who beat Nettles, but others say the man who confessed was the lone perpetrator.
Complicating the case further is the fact that Wilson, who has maintained his innocence, and the other man apparently look alike.
"The district attorney and the NYPD have been working vigorously to determine who is responsible," Viorst said.
The second man has not been identified.
A source close to the case says police and prosecutors have exhausted all of their leads, including examining video, and that only a new witness to the incident will move the case forward.
"It's frustrating. No amount of time will make a difference," said the source who requested anonymity because the case is ongoing. Wilson is due back in court Nov. 18.
Nettles, 21, was with two other transgender women friends in the early morning hours of Aug. 17 when they ran across Wilson, 20, and a group of men at Frederick Douglass Boulevard near 148th Street, according to police.
Once the men discovered that Nettles was a transgender woman, a fight broke out.
Police believe Wilson knocked Nettles to the ground and then pummeled her as she lay unconscious. Homophobic slurs were hurled during the attack, according to prosecutors.
Police from the Police Service Area 6 station house across the street found a battered Nettles laying on the ground with one eye swollen shut and blood on her face.
Nettles was taken off of life support at Harlem Hospital on Aug. 22. She was beaten so badly that a white veil was needed to obscure her face at her funeral.
Wilson, wearing a black suit, white shirt and black tie, appeared in court Friday with more than 20 family and friends as support. He thanked them in the hallway after the hearing, hugging his mother, but declined to comment through his attorney.
"I don't believe he did it," said Wilson's lawyer Xavier R. Donaldson. "The evidence is leaning toward my client."
Donaldson called Wilson "a good young man with a fantastic background."
The judge continued his $2,000 bail in the case.
The hearing was the first time Nettles' mother, Delores Nettles, has seen Wilson. She accused Wilson's family of purposely trying to muddle the case and said she's upset that "justice is being delayed."
"To see him walk out of the court and know that he's going home," Nettles said before pausing. "My baby can't come home."
More than a dozen transgender women and advocates from the LGBT community held signs and confronted Wilson and his family outside the courthouse, calling him a "murderer" and saying he deserved to be in prison.
They say the outcome of the case, including whether Wilson will even face more serious charges, will have a large effect on their community. The case should be prosecuted as a hate crime, they said.
"If nothing happens, it sends a message that transgender women are disposable," said Lourdes Hunter, 37, a transgender woman.