DOJ Clinches Conviction in Murder of Gender-Fluid Teen

Hate crime received personal attention of Sessions last year

Attorney General Jeff Sessions / Getty Images

The Department of Justice announced Saturday a second and final conviction in the murder of Kedarie Johnson, a gender-fluid-identified teen whose death rocked the small town of Burlington, Iowa.

Jaron N. Purham was convicted of first-degree murder Friday for the kidnapping, torture, and execution of Johnson. Purham's co-defendant, Jorge Sanders-Galvez, was convicted on the same charges last year, and now is incarcerated under a sentence of life without parole. Purham, whose sentencing hearing is in November, is likely to face the same sentence, which is mandatory for first degree murder in the state of Iowa.

The Department dispatched Christopher Perras, an experienced hate crimes litigator, to assist in the prosecution of the Johnson case as a Special Assistant County Attorney in October. Perras's deployment to Iowa was "personally initiated" by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, according to reports at the time.

"This is just one example of the attorney general's commitment to enforcing the laws enacted by Congress and to protecting the civil rights of all individuals," Devin O'Malley, a DOJ-spokesperson, told the Free Beacon in October.

Working alongside the DOJ's prosecutor, state prosecutors outlined how Purham and Sander-Galvez picked up Johnson outside of a grocery store parking lot, transported him to a location where they routinely had sex with young women, suffocated Johnson, and then shot him in an alleyway. At trial, prosecutors tied the two men to the crime by showing that Johnson's backpack and shoes had been found at their home, that their car matched the one seen on surveillance footage of the abduction, and that a gun found in the car matched the murder weapon.

Johnson—who would use male pronouns to refer to himself, according to DOJ—sometimes chose to present as a girl, using the name Kandiece. Johnson had opted to do so the night of the murder, and his non-normative gender presentation was part of what led prosecutors to consider charging the killers under federal hate crime laws.

"I am proud of the collaboration and hard work conducted in this case to bring two men to justice for their abhorrent actions," said John Gore, acting head of DOJ's Civil Rights division. "The Justice Department will continue to work diligently to ensure that individuals are able to live free from acts of violence, no matter their gender identity, what they believe, or how they worship."

Prosecuting hate crimes has been a top priority of the Sessions Justice Department. In 2017, DOJ charged and convicted 32 defendants in hate crimes, many under the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. In addition to the conviction of Sanders-Galvez, these included 14 convictions in racial hate crimes, 12 convictions in religious hate crimes, and six convictions in sexual orientation hate crimes.

"Individuals should be able to live their lives free from the threat of violence and discrimination, no matter who they are, what they believe, or how they worship," said Gore. "I am proud of the work that the Civil Rights Division has already accomplished, and we will continue to work diligently to bring to justice perpetrators of hate crimes across the country."