TEXAS COUNTY, Mo. –- The Texas Co. prosecutor says he does not plan to file hate crime charges in the murder of a Texas Co. teen, who was openly transgender online.
That’s according to Springfield News-Leader reports. Authorities say 18-year-old Andrew Vrba admitted to stabbing the victim, Joseph Steinfeld, who went by Ally on social media.
Four teens face a total of 11 criminal charges, three of whom face first-degree murder charges. But none of them are accused of committing a hate crime. Wednesday, KOLR10 found out why.
Steph Perkins, the executive director of PROMO, Missouri’s statewide LGBT advocacy organization, wants the prosecuting attorney to at least consider the possibility of a hate crime.
“We just want to make sure that Ally’s gender identity is taken into consideration,” Perkins said.
Dee Wampler, a criminal trial attorney in Springfield and former prosecuting attorney, explains the legal side of the case.
“Just because a person is homosexual, or gay, or a transgender, that automatically we have to assume that it’s a hate crime,” Wampler said. “We don’t assume things in the criminal law, we work on facts.”
Right now, he says the facts point to murder, but not a hate crime.
“Are we trying to make a statement that it’s an LGBT rights prosecution? I don’t think that’s what we’re in the business for,” Wampler said.
Steinfeld was stabbed to death, his eyes were gouged and private parts mutilated, all before he was burned at a home in Cabool.
“We often see things like these gruesome situations with mutilation and burning of the body with trans-related violence,” Perkins said.
Wampler agrees that it does indicate something.
“But just that alone, you know, if there was a text in here that says ‘kill the queer’ or ‘kill the homosexual’ or ‘kill the whatever’ — now that’s different,” Wampler said.
Wampler added that, because the investigation is ongoing, that information could be uncovered at any time, as it often takes months to go through text messages. Similarly, charges can always be added later. But unneccessary charges won’t help in the case of justice.
“They’re facing, right now, two life sentences,” Wampler said. “So, what, why are people saying at this point we need to add a E felony or a D felony that carries up to seven years?”
Wampler says the judge could also seek the death sentence, which wouldn’t happen for months still. Furthermore, there was a grand jury indictment, meaning the case will forgo a preliminary hearing.
KOLR10 also spoke to the victim’s mother, Amber Steinfeld, who shared this memory of her son: “My son was a very kind hearted, lovable individual and even at his age [would] cuddle with me.”