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Missouri prosecutors: Brutal murder of transgender teen is not a hate crime

The body discovered by police had been butchered — eyes gouged out, genitals slashed. “It was brutal,” the sheriff said.

The remains of the 17-year-old transgender girl were also torched.

Her bones were stuffed in a plastic bag and placed in a chicken coop near a dented trailer in Cabool, a small Ozarks town in southern Missouri.

Blood still stained the carpet in the living room when police searched the mobile home for clues to the disappearance of Ally Lee Steinfeld.

Last week, authorities charged the trailer’s owner, Briana Calderas, 24, and two others, Andrew Vrba and Isis Schauer, both 18, in connection with Steinfeld’s death. A fourth person, James Grigsby, 25, faces felony counts of abandonment of a corpse and tampering with physical evidence.

Born Joseph Matthew, Steinfeld had announced her transition in May, stating on Instagram, “I am proud to be me I am proud to be trans I am beautiful I don’t care what people think.”

“I am me and u can accept or leave,” she added in another post.

But the details surrounding the Missouri killing are far from clear. Chief among the open questions: What could have triggered such a brutal outburst of violence?

Despite the stats and anecdotes about crimes perpetuated against transgender individuals, local authorities insist the victim’s gender identity was not in play. On Wednesday, prosecutors announced the defendants would not be charged with a hate crime.

This is how a hate crime is defined and how federal and state authorities prosecute them. (Video: Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

“I would say murder in the first-degree is all that matters,” prosecutor Parke Stevens Jr. told the Associated Press. “That is a hate crime in itself.”

Steinfeld is the 21st transgender person killed in 2017, according to a count by Human Rights Campaign. In 2016, the organization tracked 22 transgender murders — the most ever tallied in a year.

Amber Steinfeld, the victim’s mother, did not return a message for comment. But in an interview with the Associated Press, she described her daughter as “loving and kindhearted.”

Ally Lee Steinfeld had been engaged to a woman until the relationship ended in August. She then began dating Calderas, the AP reported.

Amber Steinfeld told the AP her daughter, Calderas, Vrba and Schauer were all living in the Cabool trailer. Steinfeld was reported missing by family on Sept. 1, according to the Kansas City Star.

Citing police reports, the Daily Beast reported this week “tensions were high in the days before Steinfeld’s death.” A physical altercation in early September between Steinfeld and Vrba was the source of the strain. Police believe the victim was murdered two days after the fight. Vrba reportedly told police he “had to kill” Steinfeld. Calderas and Schauer may have known of his plan.

Vrba initially tried to poison Steinfeld.

When she refused to drink the poisoned liquid, Vrba reached for a knife.

To help dispose of Steinfeld’s body, the three turned to James Grigsby, the Kansas City Star reported. The paper added:

“Grigsby stated that Vrba told him he had tortured and killed Steinfeld and that Calderas had asked for his (Grigsby’s) assistance with disposing of the remains,” court documents state, adding that Grigsby admitted to detectives that he went to the residence with the other three, placed burned human remains into a plastic sack and hid them near a shed.

All four are being held without bail.

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