On Monday, during a court hearing in the July 23rd murder of transgender woman Dee Whigham, Deputy Leo Allen of the Jackson County Sheriff's Department testified that Whigham was stabbed 119 times. The brutal nature of Whigham's death was already partially known; in July, it was reported that Whigham suffered deep stab wounds to her face. The latest testimony of Deputy Allen revealed the extremity of the violence committed against Whigham.
The 25-year-old nurse was killed in her Best Western hotel room in St. Martin, Mississippi. According to the Sun Herald, Whigham was visiting St. Martin with a group of friends and colleagues to attend the Gulf Coast Black Rodeo (GCBR). Whigham worked at Forrest General Hospital, a large facility in Hattiesburg, Miss., which serves 19 surrounding counties. Whigham was beloved by her family and friends, who gathered at vigils after her death to mourn the senseless loss of, and to remember, the person they loved.
Two days after Whigham was stabbed to death, a 20-year-old Navy seaman in training named Dwanya Hickerson was charged with capital murder for the crime. "We do believe for certain we have the right individual in custody," said Lieutenant Jeffrey Smith of Jackson County Sheriff's Criminal Investigation Division in an interview with Broadly. Hickerson was training to be a meterologist at the Keepler Airforce Base in Biloxi, Miss., the same town where the GCBR occurs. According to the Sun-Herald, two Navy employees who worked in Hickerson's unit, "Chief Warrant Officer Charles Hamilton and Lt. Peter Otten," attended an early bond hearing, stating, "they were not attending the hearing as Hickerson's supporters, but as observers." As of July, the Sun-Herald reported, the Navy considered Hickerson to be on active-duty while their Naval Criminal Intelligence Service conducts its own investigation.
It isn't clear whether or not Hickerson is still an active sailor, or if he has been discharged since late July. Broadly asked the US Navy for updates to the status of the Navy's internal investigation into this case, and whether or not Hickerson is still considered on active status, but the lieutenant commander who is handling press inquiries related to the case has not yet returned Broadly's request for comment.
Though the Jackson County Sheriff's office is certain they have the right person in custody, they say they are still investigating the motive for the murder. As far as the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator, Lieutenant Smith from the sheriff's office said, "We do believe that they were at least beginning the stages of a dating relationship based on interviews with some witnesses, but we do not know how long they've known each other or exactly how they met." When asked if the case was being investigated as a hate crime, Lietuenant Smith said, "We have an agent assigned from the local FBI to help with that portion of it. At this point in time we do not see any indication that this was a hate crime, but we are keeping that option open."
As reported on Monday by local news channel KFVS12, the judge denied Hickerson's attorney's request for dismissal, meaning the case will be tried before a grand jury.
For the last several years, the media has tracked the murders of transgender women in the United States. Since its creation last summer, Broadly has followed these crimes. There are several common threads that run throughout the killings of transgender women. The killers are nearly always men, the crimes often happen in the context of a sexual or romantic relationship, and the degree of violence perpetrated on their victims is extreme. For instance, running someone over and over with a truck, or stabbing someone 119 times. In December of 2015, Broadly asked the acclaimed gender theorist Judith Butler what the extreme nature of this violence might indicate. This was her reply:
"It indicates that we are all living in a society in which such hideous and horrible things happen, and that there is nowhere near enough media attention paid to such matters. In fact, the popular media deflects from this aspect of trans existence when it should be raising our awareness and helping us to organize a systematic resistance to such violence. Perhaps the man who drives over the trans woman time and again cannot quite make her dead enough. At a certain point, she is already dead, but he is not finished killing her. Why? It is because he wants to obliterate any trace of his own relation to that living person, obliterating a part of himself and living person at the same time. But also establishing his absolute power, and his own masculinity as the site of that power. Perhaps he is rebuilding his gender as he continues to try to take apart and efface that trans woman who never deserved to die. He is seeking as well to establish a world in which no one like her exists."