News Briefing Feb. 20-26, 2015

News Briefing Feb. 20-26, 2015

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New court date in Diamond Williams case

A pre-trial conference has been set for March in the homicide case of transgender woman Diamond Williams.

Charles N. Sargent is accused of stabbing to death Williams in July 2013, then dismembering her body with an ax.

According to court records, Sargent’s defense attorneys have requested to have his mental-health status evaluated.

The new court date is set for 10 a.m. March 17 in Courtroom 1105 of the Criminal Justice Center, 1301 Filbert St.

Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerner will preside.

Sargent allegedly invited Williams to his Strawberry Mansion residence July 14, 2013. He allegedly told police he stabbed Williams in self-defense, after she demanded a pre-arranged payment of $40 for performing oral sex, which he said he refused to pay because she had a penis.

In an affidavit filed with the court, Sargent quoted extensively from the Bible and stated that his advocate is “Yahshua, the Messiah, Lord Jesus, the Christ.”

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

D.A. files doc in Morris open-records appeal

The District Attorney’s Office last week filed a 42-page document in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court in response to PGN’s appeal for complete dispatch records pertaining to the Nizah Morris case.

The document contains letters, emails and legal filings generated since June 2014, when PGN initiated its open-records request. The court is expected to rely on the document prior to rendering a decision.

The matter has been tentatively assigned to Common Pleas Judge Alice Beck Dubow, who’s scheduled to preside over oral arguments some time after May 4.

Morris was a transgender woman who sustained a fatal head wound shortly after a Philadelphia police “courtesy ride.” Her homicide remains unsolved, and advocates are calling for an independent probe by state Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane.

Gay litigant accused of defamation

Openly gay teacher Thomas Vandergrift has been accused of defaming defendants in a federal lawsuit he filed against the Pennsauken School District.

Vandergrift contends his nephew suffered pervasive anti-LGBT bullying at the Pennsauken Intermediate School between 2010-11 and, after he complained, Vandergrift said district employees accused him of molesting his nephew.

Vandergrift filed suit against the district in 2012, and the case is pending before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Schneider.

Last week,  school district attorney Brett E.J. Gorman sent a letter to Schneider, stating that Vandergrift’s recent postings on Facebook defame defendants in the case and violate a confidentiality agreement.

Gorman’s accusations will be discussed at a pre-trial conference 3 p.m. March 16 at the U.S. Courthouse in Camden, N.J.

“I feel like this [defamation accusation] is another attempt to intimidate, harass and silence me for speaking out against bullying, and advocating for a proper education for my nephew, a disabled student,” Vandergrift told PGN. “This whole thing has been one continuous nightmare.”

Gorman declined to comment. 

— Timothy Cwiek

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