BY LOU CHIBBARO JR., WASHINGTON BLADE
A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge on Aug. 18 handed down a sentence of 30 years in prison for one of two D.C. men charged in the April 2016 stabbing death of a transgender woman at the Red Roof Inn motel in Rockville, Md.
The sentence came after Keith Renier, 22, of Southeast D.C. pleaded guilty on June 22 of this year to second-degree murder for the fatal stabbing of Keyonna Blakeney, 22, during what police and prosecutors said was a robbery gone bad inside Blakeney’s room at the motel.
The 30-year prison term imposed by Judge Marielsa Bernard was the maximum sentence for a second-degree murder conviction under Maryland law.
According to an arrest affidavit prepared by Montgomery County police, the second man implicated in the case, Arbra Arine Bethea, who was 17 at the time of the incident, hatched a scheme to meet Blakeney at the Red Roof Inn for a date so he and Renier could rob her.
The affidavit says Blakeney arranged for an Uber car to pick Bethea up at his residence in Southeast D.C. and drive him to the Red Roof Inn. It says Bethea knew Blakeney through his brother, who had once dated her.
In a statement at the time of Renier and Bethea’s arrest for the murder on May 10, 2016, Montgomery County police said investigators learned that Blakeney and several acquaintances were renting rooms at the Red Roof Inn to engage in prostitution.
At the time of their arrest police charged Renier and Bethea with first-degree murder, armed robbery, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and conspiracy to commit armed robbery in connection with Blakeney’s murder. Both were ordered held without bond and Bethea was charged as an adult.
During a court hearing shortly after the arrests Assistant Montgomery County State’s Attorney Mark Anderson said Bethea told detectives investigating the case that it was Renier that stabbed Blakeney. Bethea’s attorney also stated in court that Bethea was not involved in the stabbing.
Court records show that prosecutors with the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office sought and obtained a grand jury indictment on July 7, 2016 against Renier on a single count of second-degree murder. The court records show that on that same day, prosecutors obtained an indictment against Bethea for a single count of accessory after the fact for second-degree murder.
According to the court records, Renier pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder charge on June 22 of this year and Bethea pleaded guilty to the accessory after the fact–second-degree murder charge five days later on June 27.
The State’s Attorney’s Office has not said whether or not they pushed for indictments against the two men on the charges first-degree murder or conspiracy to commit first-degree murder consistent with the charges filed by police.
Ramon Korionoff, a spokesperson for the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office, said his office believed the armed robbery charge could not be fully supported. He said that once the indictments were handed down his office did not offer any “inducements” to the two men in exchange for their guilty pleas.
“Mr. Renier will have a long time behind bars to think about this crime; we believe justice was served as we strive to protect the community,” Korionoff told the Washington Blade.
The court records show both Renier and Bethea were ordered to remain held without bond at the time of their guilty pleas.
The records show that Bethea was initially scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 14, but the sentencing was postponed until Nov. 9.
The 30-year prison sentence handed down against Keith Renier for Blakeney’s murder came two days after a D.C. Superior Court jury found District resident Gary Montgomery, 60, not guilty for the February 2012 murder of transgender woman Deoni JaParker Jones, 23, at a D.C. bus stop.
Several jurors, speaking on condition that they were not identified, told the Blade they did not believe prosecutors provided sufficient evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that Montgomery was the one who fatally stabbed Jones.
They said Jones’ status as a transgender woman was not a factor in their deliberations, which were focused on whether it was Montgomery or someone else who killed Jones.