On October 28th in 2011 Ky Peterson, then a 20 year-old transman living in Americus, Georgia, was followed on his way home, knocked out, and raped by Samuel Chavez, a Honduran immigrant. It was the second time that Peterson had been sexually assaulted while living in the small town. Peterson awoke to find his attacker naked and assaulting him both sexually and verbally. In a lengthy interview with The Advocate, Peterson describes how his rapist took him back to a trailer park near his own home and that his two brothers managed to find him during the attack:
He stood up, now on one side of the trailer with his two brothers flanking him. He saw the shadowed figure of the naked stranger charging forward. He didn't have time to think as his fingers grasped the smooth metal of the gun he'd started carrying in his backpack as a nighttime precaution ever since his first rape.
Then Peterson made a decision he'd hoped he’d never have to. He pulled the trigger.
Peterson killed his attacker in self defense that night, and he’s been dealing with the fallout of the events ever since. Peterson, who had been raped previously, found himself in a morally complicated situation. He was summarily ignored by the police after reporting his first assault, and feared that calling them again would prove to be an even worse experience. What would a police force who refused to even acknowledge that he’d been raped once do in response to finding out that he’d taken the law into his own hands when confronted by another attacker?
"I tried to explain my story to [the police] and they didn’t listen, and that was the main reason I attempted to cover up what had happened," Peterson says. "It was because I knew they wouldn’t listen — that’s just the way the system is."
Disillusioned by his experiences with local law enforcement, Peterson did the only thing he could think of and attempted to dispose of the body on a nearby country road–a decision that would ultimately land him in prison. He’s now serving a 20 year-long sentence for involuntary manslaughter.
Though Peterson insisted that he had been raped and shot Chavez in self-defense, police were doubtful of his story even after a rape kit corroborated his claims. According to Peterson his being a black, transgender man was one of the main reasons that his case was so grossly mishandled.
"What this case highlights, is from both a legal and a public perspective, how difficult it is for trans people of color to claim the status of victim," ACLU staff attorney Chase Strangio explained to the Advocate. "In so many ways, our conception of victimhood has always been taken away from people of color and taken away from gender-nonconforming people and taken away from women."
Peterson would eventually plead guilty to manslaughter charges, but as the Advocate found in the course of its investigative reporting, his sentencing contained a crucial technical error. According to court transcripts Peterson and his legal defense agreed to a deal in which he would cop to voluntary manslaughter, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. The written court documents to Peterson’s case, however, list his having pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.
"I have always said that all of these sentences need to be reviewed before they're submitted to the court to sign," said Assistant District Attorney Donald Lamberth. "I'm not sure, at this point in time, that we know what the ramifications could be from a sentence reconsideration, or reevaluation, but it does open a lot of interesting conversations."