Kelly Stough was 36 when she was shot to death by a so-called minister, Albert Weathers, 46, of Sterling Heights. The heinous crime was committed in the early morning hours of Dec. 7, 2018. Now, over four and a half years later, Weathers has accepted a plea deal, confessing to the killing. He faces between 10 and 16 years in prison, plus an additional two for possession of a firearm, and will be sentenced on Sept. 8, according to Julisa Abad of the Fair Michigan Justice Project, who was in the courtroom when Weathers entered his plea on July 27.
Stough was a trans woman and a sex worker. Prosecutors allege Weathers shot Stough when a disagreement about rates escalated. For his part, Weathers, who initially cried self-defense, later changed his argument and traded it in for an accidental shooting defense.
"It was not self-defense so much as it was an accidental shooting," Attorney David Cripps said during Weathers' preliminary hearing on March 29, 2019. "This isn't an intentional shooting. I would ask the court to look at this as an accidental shooting."
No matter how the shooting occurred, there is no debating the fact that Stough's body was discarded and dumped by Weathers and left in the street near the intersection of McNichols Road and Brush Street in the Palmer Park area. Police found the body after Weathers eventually called to report the shooting after showering and showing up for work.
"She was disposable," Wayne Country Assistant Prosecutor Jaimie Powell Horowitz said at the hearing. "He threw her out like trash and left her to die in the streets."
Horowitz has since left the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office and the case was set to be tried by Kam Towns, special prosecutor for the Fair Michigan Justice Project. As the trial approached, those close to Stough said it was important people fill up the courtroom in support, as Weathers allegedly had a large group of supporters who had planned to attend for as long as the trial lasted.
"It definitely would be good for people to show up and support because she did matter," said Jey'nce Poindexter Mizrahi of the Trans Sistas of Color Project and the Ruth Ellis Center, who both planned to have supporters in the courtroom ahead of the original trial date. Mizrahi said she's been disappointed as the case has unfolded. "It's been eye-opening the way things have almost changed in his favor. Early on, the decision to lower his bond and for him to be released on a tether. Just given the facts of the case - I thought it was being handled very lightly."
Mizrahi knew Stough for many years and considered her a friend. "I'm showing up to continue to stand with her and for her. But also to let them know that no matter how long this stretches out or how long it goes on, we are still right here and - still expecting the system to work."
Jessica Williams, Stough's mother, had also planned to be at the courthouse every day.
"I'm just really hoping for justice," she said. "I want to let people understand that Kelly wasn't just a statistic. She was someone who was loved and had a typical life, if you will. She was raised in a two-parent home, graduated high school. She's just not whatever society looks upon or their understanding of trans women of color or the LGBTQ+ community."
Williams said trans women, particularly those of color, are often looked down upon.
"These individuals are educated," she said. "If society would give them a chance or let them be productive in the community, it would be different. We all have to live."
Stough, said Williams, was a wonderful daughter.
"I want to let people know she was a good person," she said. "She was a beautiful person and I'm proud of her for being her true self."
Abad and the Fair Michigan Justice Project has been keeping a close eye on Stough's case as it has moved through the justice system.
"It's unfortunate the violence that trans women of color go through in our society when a community is marginalized or the violence toward them is not taken seriously," she said. "It sets the tone of how the community interacts with us."
As the trans community continues to be the target of so much vitriol and disdain, Abad said it's "important for people to know we're not asking for more rights than anybody else. We're simply asking for the same opportunities and the same quality of life. We are loved. We are human. And we have families that love and support us."