Justice for Ky Peterson! Black transgender man sentenced to 20 years in prison for defending himself against sexual assault.
We demand justice for Ky Peterson, a Black transgender man incarcerated in Georgia for defending himself against transphobic sexual violence. We call upon Governor Nathan Deal to pardon and release Ky Peterson now!
On October 28th 2011, the life that Ky Peterson knew, the life he had worked so hard for, came to an end. Ky and his younger brothers (they were 14 and 16) took a walk to a neighborhood convenience store. After making his purchase, Ky waited outside the store for his brothers. While waiting, Ky was approached by a man who made sexual advances toward him. When Ky asked the man to leave him alone, the man then walked away, uttering derogatory insults as he got in his vehicle. Ky then went into the store and told his brothers that he was walking home, leaving them to follow. As Ky passed an abandoned trailer in a nearby mobile home park, the man who had approached Ky in front of the convenience store attacked him from behind. The man then dragged Ky into the abandoned trailer and began to sexually assault him. Ky fought back in self-defense against his attacker, which ultimately led to his death.
Ky’s brothers were walking past the trailer when they heard the attack. As Ky was injured and in shock, the younger boys – being young, black men from a small town in South Georgia – panicked and attempted to cover up the incident.
The following day, when police came and questioned the boys, Ky told them about the attack. The police arrested them, charging the boys with armed robbery and first-degree murder, and threatened to charge the teens as adults.
When it became apparent that Ky was suffering from injuries, the police took him to a local medical center where he was examined and a rape kit was administered. The nurse who performed the examination confirmed that Ky had been brutally raped and sodomized; yet she felt the need to point out that Ky “didn’t act like a woman who had been raped”.
An investigation into Ky’s attacker revealed that just a year before, the man was arrested in Baltimore on charges of second-degree assault, possession of a dangerous weapon with intent to injure and resisting or interfering with arrest.
After Ky was examined, the police returned him to the Sumter County jail where he sat for nearly a year with no word from a single person about his case. Ky should have had a Victim Advocate and received treatment for the physical and emotional injuries he sustained during his attack. He got nothing: Sumter County left a rape victim to rot in jail because he doesn’t present as a woman and wasn’t perceived as a victim as a trans man.
Ky’s public defender should have protected him under Georgia’s Stand Your Ground Law. The rape kit came back positive, confirming that Ky had recently experienced forceful vaginal and anal penetration. An autopsy performed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation confirmed that Ky’s DNA was found on the dead man’s genitals. This exculpatory evidence, which proves Ky’s innocence, was ignored by prosecution and misused by his defense.
The following are statements made by Ky’s public defender to The Advocate when he was asked why Ky was not permitted to plead self-defense:
“Number One, you’re African-American,” the public defender recounts saying to Peterson, “and these little old white ladies in South Georgia think that if [they] see an African-American outside their own neighborhoods, [they] need to be careful.”
The second “strike”, the public defender says, is that Peterson looked “stereotypically gay.” “The fact you’re gay will be an issue that I have to address early on,” the man recalls telling Peterson. “That’s two strikes that are against us from the get-go. And that factored extensively into my and my investigator’s discussions about the case…. The bottom line is, in a criminal case, the client is presumed guilty, even though that’s not the law.”
The public defender then told The Advocate he did consider a self-defense argument in Peterson’s case and used the claim as leverage in securing a plea deal. “There’s a good chance, if you believe his story, that it was self-defense,” he recalls telling the DA. “And there’s enough in there, possibly, for an open-minded juror to possibly find him not guilty. So I played that card with the DA, even though I knew it was a loser.”
The county realized that Ky was a victim and reduced his charge to involuntary manslaughter, offering Ky a plea “bargain” of 20 years with 15 years to serve. However, according to Georgia State Code O.C.G.A. § 16-5-3 (a) “…A person who commits the offense of involuntary manslaughter in the commission of an unlawful act, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than ten years.”
Like many people caught unaware in the Georgia legal system, Ky was bullied into signing this plea “deal.” Ky was criminalized by the racist statements made by his public defender, by transphobic medical treatment by the nurse who performed the rape kit exam, the unlawful sentence, and countless negligent actions of Sumter County, including:
- Prosecutorial Misconduct (intimidation and racial and gender profiling)
- Selective Prosecution in violation of the 14th Amendment
- Ineffective Counsel in violation of the 6th Amendment “Right to Assistive Counsel” when he was denied the right to plead self defense
Ky has suffered tremendous injustices due to racial, gender and sexual biases. It is for all of the above-mentioned reasons that we are asking Georgia Governor Nathan Deal to pardon Kyle (Kenyota) Peterson.
Ky is currently serving his sentence in Georgia’s Pulaski State Prison, where he has suffered continuous dehumanizing treatment from prison staff for being openly transgender. Over the last year, Ky has publicly shared his story to help raise awareness and visibility for the victims of transphobic sexual violence. With the help of our friends in the media, and organizations like Get Equal, Survived And Punished, Black & Pink, and Southerners on New Ground, we are thankful to have gained supporters across the globe. If he is pardoned and released, Ky hopes to build a future in trans advocacy by continuing to share his story and fighting for victims’ rights.
Ky Peterson Defense Committee