Human Rights Campaign asks Hawley to look into slaying of transgender teenager

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A nationally prominent LGBT group wants Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley to oversee the investigation into the recent killing of a transgender teenager in the southern part of the state.

The Human Rights Campaign, which bills itself as the largest LGBT civil rights organization in the U.S., wrote a letter to Hawley asking him to "closely review" the death of 17-year-old Joseph Steinfeld, who identified as a male-to-female transgender person and preferred the first name Ally.

The teenager's burned remains were found in a chicken coop outside of Cabool, and four have been arrested in connection with the slaying.

Local law enforcement authorities have said they are not looking into the death in connection with Missouri's hate-crime statutes, and this in particular concerns the Human Rights Campaign, which released a letter to Hawley from Sarah Warbelow, the organization's legal director.

"While all details of Ally's murder are not available to the public, those that have been shared raise serious red flags," Warbelow wrote, in part. "The perpetrators of this crime knew Ally and knew she was transgender. Particularly alarming is the information that one or more of the perpetrators stabbed Ally in her genitals which heavily suggests that this was not a general crime but rather was motivated by her gender identity."

A spokeswoman for Hawley said "we have received the letter and are reviewing it."

Sexual orientation is covered under Missouri's hate crime law, although "gender identity" is not specified in the statute, which allows certain low-level felonies and serious misdemeanors to be charged as hate offenses, with enhanced punishment, if prosecutors believe an offender was motivated because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation or disability of the victim or victims.

However, as the Texas County Prosecutor pointed out in a news release Thursday, the charges filed against those accused in Steinfeld's killing — first-degree murder, armed criminal action, abandonment of a corpse and tampering with physical evidence — are not covered by the hate offense statute. And first-degree murder already carries more significant penalties than a hate offense, which tops out as a class D felony.

"Hate crimes rend the fabric of our society and fragment communities because they target a whole group and not just the individual victim," Warbelow continued. "A violent hate crime is intended to 'send a message' that an individual and 'their kind' will not be tolerated, many times leaving the victim and others in their group feeling isolated, vulnerable and unprotected."

Citing the state's law, Warbelow writes to Hawley that his office's attention to the case would "send a strong and important message that Missouri takes all crime, including those motivated by gender identity, very seriously and that hate crimes of any kind will not be tolerated in your jurisdiction."

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