News briefing Dec. 5-11, 2014

News briefing Dec. 5-11, 2014

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No death penalty in Williams case

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office won’t seek the death penalty for Charles N. Sargent, who allegedly stabbed and dismembered Diamond Williams, a local transgender woman.

“As brutal as this case is, it doesn’t meet the parameters of a death-penalty case, which are defined by state law,” said assistant district attorney Geoffrey W. MacArthur.

MacArthur said the office decided against pursuing the death penalty last month, after Sargent’s preliminary hearing.

Sargent is charged with murder, abuse of corpse and possessing an instrument of crime.

“At this point, it’s a first-degree murder case, which means Mr. Sargent will spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted,” MacArthur said.

A jury trial is expected to be held in late 2015 if a plea agreement isn’t reached, MacArthur added.

According to a statement Sargent gave to police, he allegedly invited Williams to his Strawberry Mansion residence during the early-morning hours of July 14, 2013.

Sargent claims he stabbed Williams in self-defense, after she demanded a pre-arranged payment of $40 for performing oral sex — which he refused to pay due to her male genitalia.

A pre-trial conference is scheduled for 9 a.m. Dec. 18 in Room 1105 of the Criminal Justice Center, 1301 Filbert St.

Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerner will preside.

Sargent, 45, remains incarcerated at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Northeast Philadelphia.


Schneller denied participation in marriage case

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals last month denied anti-LGBT activist James Schneller’s request to participate in a pending marriage-recognition case.

Cara Palladino and Isabelle Barker filed suit in 2013, seeking recognition of their out-of-state marriage in Pennsylvania. The case has been held in abeyance, pending the outcome of appeals in the Whitewood case, which established marriage equality throughout the state.

Schneller claims that marriage equality infringes on his religious freedoms. But last month, 13 Third Circuit judges signed an order denying Schneller’s request to participate in the Palladino case.

In an email, Schneller expressed disappointment with the order. But he noted that it’s still possible that the Whitewood decision will be reversed on appeal.

Schneller has also requested to become a participant in the Whitewood case. That request remained pending with the Third Circuit Court of Appeals by presstime.


Plans form for Morris event

Sharron L. Cooks, a local trans activist, has agreed to speak at a candlelight march and vigil commemorating the 12th anniversary of Nizah Morris’ death.

The event, which is sponsored by the Justice for Nizah committee, will be held 5-6:30 p.m. Dec. 22 in Center City.

Morris was a transgender woman who sustained a fatal head injury shortly after entering a police vehicle on Dec. 22, 2002. Her homicide remains unsolved.

The march will originate at the old Key West Bar at 207 S. Juniper St. and proceed north on Broad Street to the District Attorney’s Office at Three South Penn Square. Other speakers include former state Rep. Babette Josephs and the Rev. Jeffrey Haskins of Unity Fellowship of Christ Church.

In addition to seeking a state probe of the Morris case, the J4N committee is demanding that local authorities release all records pertaining to the Morris incident and meet with a contingent of J4N members.

For more information, contact April Murdock at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

— Timothy Cwiek


Gay man to stand trial for murder

A trial has been ordered in the case of a murdered Roxborough cantor.

During a preliminary hearing Tuesday, Municipal Court Judge James M. DeLeon ordered the accused murderer, Jonathan Williams, to stand trial on a general charge of murder and other counts related to the Sept. 30 incident.

Williams, 33, is accused of stabbing Ronald Fischman 10 times in the back with a kitchen knife. During this week’s hearing, Detective Timothy Scally read a statement in which Williams admitted his guilt to Philadelphia homicide detectives.

Williams and his now ex-boyfriend, Gordan Branch, were homeless before Fischman invited them live with him in his East Mount Airy home. Fischman later kicked Williams out after he believed Williams was stealing from him.

The incident took place when Williams allegedly broke in to Fischman’s home, prompting an argument between Fischman and Williams, while Branch, who was visiting, hid in a bedroom.


Health-insurance event

Looking to sign up for health insurance in the New Year? Now you can do so in an LGBT-friendly environment.

Garden State Equality will host free workshops to help people enroll and become educated about LGBT-specific health literacy.

The first workshop will be held Dec. 8 at the Newark LGBTQ Community Center, 11 Halsey St. in Newark, and the second on Dec. 16 at Rutgers-Camden Campus Center Multipurpose Room, 326 Penn St. in Camden. Both are from 4-8 p.m.

To sign up, visit GSE on Facebook or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

— Ryan Kasley


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