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News - October 1996

Killer pleads guilty, gets life, at Forte murder trial

A dozen members of the Transexual Menace, GenderPAC and IFGE gathered in a quiet memorial vigil outside the imposing red-stone courthouse in suburban Lawrence, MA Sept. 16, commemorating the 1995 violent slaying of Deborah ("Debbie") Forte.

Ms. Forte, a resident of Haverhill, MA, was brutally murdered by Michael Thompson on May 15, who afterwards confessed to a coworker he had taken her home, began "messing around", and -- upon discovering she had a penis -- killed her.

Activists had sought to focus public attention on Ms. Forte's murder both because it was ignored by mainstream and queer media, and because of its extraordinary violence. Thompson had strangled Ms. Forte, beaten her severely about her head and shoulders, and then deeply stabbed her multiple times in the chest and breasts.

Jury selection was originally scheduled to begin Tuesday, with the trial starting as early as the following Wednesday. But in a surprising development activists outside the courthouse learned that at about 10am EST Thompson entered a Guilty plea to 2nd Degree Murder, following a negotiated plea bargain. He was immediately sentenced by the presiding judge to Life Imprisonment, with possibility of parole in 15 years.

The plea down to 2nd instead of 1st Degree Murder was considered possibly due to the prosecution's lack of evidence of premeditation, which could have mandated the higher 1st Degree charge. Conviction for 1st Degree Murder carries with it a sentence of Life Imprisonment without possibility of parole.

Members of Debbie's surviving family, including her older sister, emerged from the courthouse appearing shaken but resolute. They were interviewed by the press, declaring themselves satisfied with the conviction and sentence. Many then stopped by the demonstrators, thanking them repeatedly thanked for showing up.

Said a Menace spokestrans, "The level of almost unhinged violence in Debbie's murder echoes that of the recent murders of Brandon Teena, Jesse Santiago, Christian Paige, and Chanel Picket. One thing coming out of these Memorial Vigils is that they are finally forcing the media to cover these terrible crimes like they deserve. And this is one small step in stopping the toll of gender-based violence."

The event was well-attended by local media including several gay papers, 2 regional newspapers, one TV news show, and a journalist from the Boston Globe, who -- in a fortuitous coincidence -- happened to be inside the courthouse on business, encountered the demonstration on his way out, and called the story in to his editor.

The Memorial Vigil had been called by Riki Anne Wilchins and Nancy Nangeroni, and it was Ms. Nangeroni, with Mr. Rob Johnson of Bostons Fenway Community Health Center (Victim Recovery Program) who handled the local logistics and planning. Except for some minor harassment from local police, the Vigil came off without incident as activists distributed over 200 leaflets headed "Transpeople Are NOT Disposable People," and others carried signs reading "In Memorium: Debbie Forte" and "Difference is NOT a Crime Punishable by Death."


©1996 Oasis Magazine. All Rights Reserved.