MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — Charges were dropped Tuesday against a Harlem man accused of beating transgender woman Islan Nettles to death because of conflicting accounts about who actually attacked her, prosecutors said.
But the Manhattan District Attorney's office said it will continue to investigate homicide charges in the case.
The family of Paris Wilson, 20, broke into applause when Judge Steven Statsinger announced that misdemeanor assault charges against him were dismissed. Outside the courtroom, Wilson hugged and kissed his family.
But Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Viorst said his office is still "aggressively investigating" what he called a "deeply complex" case.
"It should be emphasized, however, that the crime we are investigating, homicide, has no statutory speedy-trial deadline," said Viorst in citing speedy trial requirements as a reason for dropping the misdemeanor charges.
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 said they are certain only one person assaulted Nettles. However, some witnesses identified Wilson as the person who beat Nettles, but others say the man who confessed was responsible for the beating. That second man has not been identified.
That inconsistency among witnesses has prevented the District Attorney's office from bringing the case before a grand jury. The office has pleaded with the public for any additional witnesses to come forward and sources say the only thing likely to move the case forward are new witnesses.
"We are not yet prepared to go to the grand jury on this case. However, our investigation remains active in the expectation that we will ultimately hold accountable the person responsible for this crime," Viorst said.
Nettles' mother Delores Nettles held back tears when asked about the case, saying she was upset but understood that this was part of the legal process.
"Hopefully justice will be served," she said outside of the courtroom, "so the next time he comes to court he will not walk out."
Wilson declined to comment through his attorney Xavier R. Donaldson who acknowledged Nettles' death but said Wilson has also suffered.
"At this point, Mr. Wilson is paying for it," said Donaldson, who added that Wilson was working full time at a factory and would now seek to re-enroll as a student at Buffalo State University for the spring semester.
"Paris Wilson had nothing to do with this," said Donaldson. "I'm happy the D.A.'s office is investigating. They are looking for the right person which is good news to us."
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.
After discovering that Nettles was a transgender woman, police say a fight broke out where Wilson allegedly knocked Nettles to the ground and then pummeled her as she lay unconscious. Homophobic slurs were hurled during the attack, according to prosecutors.
Police said they found Nettles on the ground unconscious with a swollen eye and blood on her badly battered face. Nettles' mother took her off life support at Harlem Hospital on Aug. 22.
Viorst said Wilson was stopped several blocks from the scene and "identified as the perpetrator" until "a second individual came forward to the police and claimed to be responsible for the crime."
"(S)hould our ongoing investigation ultimately result in an indictment of Mr. Wilson for homicide, the case would be promptly restored to the calendar and would move forward," said Viorst.
Donaldson continued to proclaim his client's innocence.
"My client never put a finger or hand or hair on the deceased," he said.
"The community was shown someone could beat the system by sleight of hand," said Mariah Lopez of the Strategic Transgender Alliance for Radical Reform. "We are creating in New York City a recipe to get away with murder."