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BY BTL STAFF
Nearly six months after the body of 25-year-old Ashton O’Hara was found brutally murdered in a Detroit field, the killer has been found guilty of voluntary manslaughter.
O’Hara’s killer, Larry B. Gaulding, 39, was sentenced Jan. 13 to 30-60 years for voluntary manslaughter and 10 years for tampering with evidence, to be served concurrently.
O’Hara, who was also known as Jessica Storm, was a black transgender and genderfluid individual who was using he/him pronouns.
At the time of his death on July 14, 2015, O’Hara was the 14th confirmed murder of a trans person in 2015 and the 12th of a trans person of color. Nearly 30 transgender individuals were murdered last year – a record-breaking year for transgender murders in the U.S. Despite reports that say the transgender population comprises less than 1 percent of the world’s population, statistics show that a trans person is murdered every 29 hours.
Unlike so very many of the victims, especially working class trans people of color, O’Hara was able to receive justice for his untimely death. This surprising show of system support for a transgender life was thanks in part to a highly cooperative Detroit Metropolitan Police Department and a mother, Rebecca O’Hara, who strongly advocated for her child. Rebecca also worked closely with Equality Michigan which supported her in navigating these systems to achieve justice for Ashton.
“Just last month, we were heartbroken when the jury came back with a guilty verdict for voluntary manslaughter rather than murder one or two, especially since Gaulding showed no signs of remorse throughout the proceedings,” said Yvonne Siferd, Director of Victims Services for Equality Michigan. “But, yesterday everything changed. Far surpassing our expectations, Judge Cameron used his judicial discretion and exceeded the sentencing guidelines, which would have otherwise capped at 15 years. Instead, Gaulding was sentenced to 30-60 years in prison, and will likely never again have the opportunity to walk the streets of Detroit or harm another trans woman.”
It’s not often that the trans community sees realized justice for the harm against the community. Michigan law does not provide legal protections for sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. Were the state to have such laws in place, O’Hara’s murder would have been considered and charged as a hate crime.
“Even though the state could not prosecute this as an anti-trans hate crime, Judge Cameron sent a message that trans lives do matter by providing Ashton’s family with equal justice under the law,” said Siferd.
Despite the satisfaction that may come in seeing the murder of a trans person treated, investigated and prosecuted with seriousness and uncharacteristic speed, the time spent in jail will not alleviate the loss to Ashton O’Hara’s family, friends and community.
“This outcome is really bittersweet. Though Gaulding’s sentence is a small victory for the trans community, it has come at a very high price. Ashton O’Hara, a.k.a. Jessica Storm, was a brilliant and beautiful spirit that we lost to soon,” Siferd soberly reminded us.