Minn. transgender woman freed early in fatal stabbing case

Supporters of CeCe McDonald, the Min.. transgender woman who was imprisoned in a fatal stabbing case, hold a rally April 26, 2013.
Courtesy "Support CeCe"

MINNEAPOLIS - Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald, a Minneapolis transgender woman imprisoned for a fatal stabbing during a racially charged brawl, was released Monday after serving 19 months of her 41-month sentence, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

McDonald, 25, was initially charged with second-degree murder in the death of Dean Schmitz, 47. McDonald, who is black, was reportedly walking with her friends on June 5, 2011 when group outside a bar began yelling racial, homophobic and transgender slurs. Police said a fight ensued and a woman reportedly cut McDonald in the face with a bar glass before McDonald fatally stabbed Schmitz in the chest with scissors, reports the paper.

McDonald pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter in June 2012 and was sentenced to 41 months.

McDonald, a man in transition to being a woman, left the men’s prison in St. Cloud Monday and will be supervised by Hennepin County until the 41-month term ends in February 2015, reports the Star Tribune.

McDonald had been imprisoned in a men's facility after a gender assessment, the paper reported.

McDonald’s imprisonment outraged gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocates who argued that she was unjustly criminalized after defending herself against a hate attack, said Chai Jindasurat, co-director of community organizing and public advocacy at the New York City Anti-Violence Project. A “Free CeCe” campaign urged prosecutors to drop charges against her, and transgender actress and "Orange Is The New Black" star Laverne Cox is producing a documentary about McDonald’s incarceration, reports the Huffington Post.

Cox reportedly picked up McDonald outside the prison after her release.

 “People were very upset that a transgender woman of color was bring criminalized for defending herself in a world we know that transgender women of color are disproportionately affected by deadly hate violence,”  Jindasurat  told CBS News’ Crimesider.  “Unfortunately most of the time transgender women do not survive these kinds of attacks. She did survive, and she ended up in prison.”

Nationally, transgender women, especially those of color, tend to face disproportionate impacts when it comes to violence and homicide, Jindasurat said.

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects tracks reported hate violence against the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender communities. In 2012, the group recorded 25 homicides targeting LGBT individuals, drawing on data from 15 anti-violence programs in 16 states.

Of those killed, 50 percent were transgender women.

LGBT advocates also raised concern about McDonald being housed in a men’s prison for fear that she would become victimized while incarcerated, Jindasurat said.

“I’m sure that to Dean’s family, he was a loving, caring person,” McDonald said in court at her sentencing hearing, reports the Star-Tribune. “But that is not what I saw that night. I saw a racist, transphobic, narcissistic bigot who did not have any regard for my friends and I.”

Tammy Luhmenn, the mother of Schmitz’ three grown sons, reportedly said at the same sentencing hearing that Schmitz "loved his children, and at the hands of Chrishaun McDonald, he can never tell them again.”

  • Erin Donaghue

    Erin Donaghue covers crime for's Crimesider.