A federal hate crimes attorney says two men "kidnapped, suffocated and executed" a gender-fluid teen in Burlington.
Prosecutor Christopher Perras laid out the state’s case accusing Jorge Sanders-Galvez of first-degree murder in the killing of 16-year-old Kedarie Johnson. The opening statement came Thursday after two full days of jury selection in Kekouk’s South Lee County Courthouse.
"The defendant and Jaron Purham shot and killed Kedarie, then took steps to cover it up," Perras says. He adds they had already "left a trail of evidence" after the killing on March 2, 2016.
"Kedarie Johnson wasn’t a drug dealer, and he wasn’t a gang banger. In a lot of ways, he was an ordinary high school kid," Perras says.
He says, and two witnesses confirm, that Johnson sometimes liked to dress like a girl and go by the name Kandicee.
Perras says on the night of the killing, Sanders-Galvez and his co-defendant were hanging out with friends, then decided to get food at Hy-Vee.
The state has surveillance footage from the Hy-Vee. It also shows Johnson, dressed like a girl, entering the store. Perras says the footage shows the defendant and Purham in a red Chevy Impala.
"It drives all the way around the parking lot, drives behind Kedarie, and slows down," Perras says. "What happens next isn’t on camera."
Johnson went to his friend’s house.
The friend testified that Johnson said he was scared of "Lumni," which is Sanders-Galvez’s nickname. The friend says a red car was outside her house when Johnson arrived. She says Johnson left a few minutes later.
Perras says that was the last time any witness had seen Johnson alive.
According to Perras, friends of the defendant were wondering why what should have been a 10-minute trip to Hy-Vee ended up taking two hours. When the defendant arrived back at his friend’s house, Perras says he gave the gun to his friend and asked him to hold onto it.
Meanwhile, police found Johnson’s body in an alley. Crime scene photos show a plastic bag wrapped tightly around his head, his shirt pulled up, his feet bare and a white bottle near his legs. Perras says the defendants doused Johnson’s body in bleach to erase DNA evidence.
He says Sanders-Galvez picked up his gun from his friend the next day, and he and Purham left for Missouri shortly after. He says a second crime scene was found at a house where Sanders-Galvez and Purham were staying.
"It was clear there had been a struggle," Perras says. "A bed sheet had been ripped, and there were fibers all over the floor. The same fibers found on Kedarie Johnson’s body."
Police also found a backpack there containing Johnson’s school ID and laptop. Ballistics testing matched bullets found in Johnson to a gun later recovered after police chased down Purham.
Just a few hours after Johnson’s death, Sanders-Galvez used his cell phone to search for information about the killing. According to Perras, he searched for this information 57 times before he was arrested.
Perras did not explicitly discuss a motive for the killing in his opening statement.
"Pay attention to how Kedarie Johnson was dressed that night, and what the defendant liked to do at that house," Perras told the jury.
In a pre-trial motion filed last week, Perras writes, "The state will offer evidence to show that Defendant Sanders-Galvez saw Kedarie leave the Hy-Vee; flirted with Kedarie, believing that Kedarie was biologically female; invited Kedarie to have sex with him and his co-defendant; discovered during the sexual act that Kedarie was biologically male; became enraged," and then proceeded to suffocate and shoot the victim.
The case garnered national attention after Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent Perras to help with the case. He’s serving as an assistant to Des Moines County Attorney Amy K. Beavers.
Federal authorities are also investigating the case as a hate crime based on Johnson’s gender identity.
The defense will present its opening statement after the state rests its case.
The trial is expected to last two weeks. Co-defendant Jaron Purham will be tried separately.