TDoR 1996 / 1995 / November / 20 / Chanelle Pickett

Chanelle Pickett

Age 23

20 Nov 1995
Watertown, Massachusetts (USA)
Beaten and strangled

TDoR list ref: Nov 1995/Chanelle Pickett

Chanelle Pickett
Chanelle Pickett [photo:]

Chanelle was beaten and strangled by William Palmer. At trial he was convicted of assault and battery but acquitted of murder.

In November 1995, Chanelle Pickett, an African-American transsexual woman, was strangled to death at age 23. At her service, Chanelle’s twin sister, Gabrielle, also a transsexual woman, remembered her as a vibrant person, “full of life… high-spirited… with many goals.”

In the year prior to Chanelle’s murder, the two sisters, both working steadily at NYNEX in Brookline, MA, were “outed” as transsexuals, viciously harassed by a supervisor for six weeks, and ultimately fired. Stunned, exhausted, and unable to find work elsewhere, both women fell quickly into desperate poverty. Chanelle, a prime target for a man with a predatory attitude toward transgender women, turned up dead in William Palmer’s apartment. According to the coroner, Chanelle’s body was found with “bruised face and lips,” and her “brain was badly swollen, the neck muscles were bruised, and there was hemorrhaging in the eyes.” Despite strong physical evidence against Palmer, he was convicted only of assault & battery. He received 2 years of jail time, a longer sentence than the prosecutor had requested, with Judge Robert A. Barton acknowledging the particularly “vicious” nature of the killing.

The tragedy of Chanelle Pickett’s murder illustrates some of the connections between violence and pervasive employment discrimination. Chanelle was an ordinary woman working at NYNEX until her transsexuality made her a target for harassment. Although she properly sought help from a supervisor, her predicament was ignored. She transferred to a different department, but harassment against her continued openly and unabated. Eventually, she was fired. Unable to find work and having exhausted her legitimate options, Chanelle finally turned to prostitution for survival, a dangerous last resort. Before her murder, she surely suffered hopelessness for many months, feeding a growing desperation that led her to take risks that would never have been necessary had she not lost her job.

Chanelle Pickett’s killer did not just target a transsexual woman; he preyed on a woman who had already been victimized because of her identity. Chanelle lost her livelihood because of transphobia, and her opportunities to rebuild her life were nearly non-existent because of pervasive discrimination. Unprotected by laws against discrimination, her vibrant life was brutally cut short because so many doors had already been closed to her.

During the subsequent trial Palmer was acquitted of murder after using the same type "trans panic" defence which would cause such outrage during the trial of the killers of Gwen Araujo 7 years later.

Palmer was portrayed in the Boston media as an average white-collar guy who was an upstanding member of his community. On the other hand, they saddled Chanelle with all the negativity directed at African-American transwomen. They never once pointed out her side of the story or thought of her as a human being who was a valued member of society.

One Boston Herald front-page story at the time described Palmer as a polite, clean-cut preppy. The article went on to describe the murder sympathetically as the only natural reaction any self-respecting, red-blooded, heterosexual man would have.

Despite the strong physical evidence against Palmer, unbelievably the 'trans panic defense worked and he was found not guilty of murder in April 1997. Palmer was convicted only of assault and battery. He received 2 years of jail time, a longer sentence than the prosecutor had requested, with Judge Robert A. Barton acknowledging the particularly "vicious" nature of the killing.

Report added: 17 Feb 2019. Last updated: 13 Jan 2021

Trigger warning

This site contains reports of violence against transgender people, and links to detailed reports which contain graphic imagery.

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