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12-Year Sentence for Transgender Woman's Killer 'Not Right,' Family Says

By  Kathleen Culliton and Lili Holzer-Glier | April 19, 2016 11:21am 

 James Dixon was sentenced to 12 years for the beating death of transgender woman Islan Nettles.
James Dixon sentenced for death of Islan Nettles
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MANHATTAN — Relatives of transgender woman Islan Nettles took issue with the plea deal with the killer at his sentencing Tuesday, saying he should serve more than 12 years for beating her to death on a Harlem sidewalk in 2013.

After a years-long delay because prosecutors initially charged another man, James Dixon, 25, pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter this month for the attack on Nettles, then 21, on Aug. 17, 2013.

The transgender woman's family spoke expressed disappointment with the plea agreement struck by the Manhattan District Attorney's office.

"Only 12 years is not right. We have baby sisters and they're traumatized," sister Skye Nettles told the court. "I looked up to her as someone who inspired me."

Dixon told police that he had been flirting with Nettles, whom he did not realize was transgender, on Eighth Ave. near W. 148 St. in Harlem.

After his friends started to tease him about it, Dixon hit Nettles with such force that when her head hit the pavement it caused serious brain injury, and then continued to pummel her as she lay on the ground unconscious, police and prosecutors said.

Nettles was rushed her to Harlem Hospital where she fell into a coma and was taken off life support three days later.

"You beat her so bad she had to have brain surgery," Islan's mother Delores Nettles said, addressing Dixon. "How can you sleep at night?"

Dixon, dressed in a tan sweat suit and sporting a new haircut, turned his head away from the Nettles family and closed his eyes as they spoke to him.

Delores Nettles has said she plans to push for federal hate crime charges.

"Islan was killed because of who she was and how she was dressed," Nettles said after Dixon accepted his deal. She added that 12 years did not feel like enough time for the man who killed her daughter.

"He'll still be a young man in his 30s when he gets out. Islan is gone forever."

Dixon was arrested two years after the crime because another man, Paris Wilson, 20, was erroneously charged in 2013. Wilson was arrested shortly after the attack, but the charges were dropped when Dixon confessed.

Dixon accepted a plea deal on April 4, on the eve of the start of his trial. He would have faced up to 25 years in prison.

While both prosecutors and police believe that Dixon’s attack was triggered in part by the fact that Nettles was a transgender woman, they could not provide enough proof to meet the New York state statute on hate crimes, sources said.

The law requires that the prosecution prove the victim was intentionally selected by race, gender, or sexual orientation, among other criteria.

CORRECTION: The original story incorrectly stated that prosecutors requested 12 years under a plea deal with Dixon. The Manhattan District Attorney recommended 17 years in prison, but the judge reduced the sentence to 12 years.