Three people accused of brutally murdering a transgender teenager in rural Missouri are not being charged with a hate crime, with prosecutors arguing that their actions were not motivated by her gender identity.
The charred body of 17-year-old Ally Lee Steinfeld was found in a chicken coop near a mobile home belonging to one of her alleged killers, 24-year-old Briana Calderas, whom Steinfeld had been dating and living with. Two other suspects, Andrew Vrba and Isis Schauer, both 18, also resided on the property. All three, along with 25-year-old James Grigsby, have been charged with first degree murder.
Steinfeld was reported missing on September 14 after her family hadn’t seen her for several weeks, though initial news reports referred to her incorrectly as male. Steinfeld’s family distributed missing posters using her birth name, as did police documents, Time reports.
Calderas and Steinfeld began dating in August, and Steinfeld’s mother, Amber, told reporters that her daughter was “upbeat” before she disappeared.
But according to the Daily Beast, the group had not been getting along prior to Steinfeld’s disappearance, with Schauer telling investigators that Steinfeld and Vrba had “been in a physical altercation on September 3.” Steinfeld allegedly left the home after the fight, and was not seen again. In later interviews with police, however, all three suspects allegedly disclosed a plan to kill Steinfeld and dispose of her body.
Though no motive has been offered, authorities say that Steinfeld’s being transgender had nothing to do with her death. “I would say murder in the first-degree is all that matters,” prosecutor Parke Stevens Jr.Stevens said. “That is a hate crime in itself.”
This seems at odds with the manner in which the crime was carried out, with Steinfeld’s eyes being gouged out and multiple stab wounds to her genitals. From Time:
Vrba told investigators he initially tried to poison Steinfeld, then described how he stabbed Steinfeld in the living room of Calderas’ mobile home, Deputy Rowdy Douglas wrote in a probable cause statement. The female suspects said Vrba bragged to them about how he gouged Steinfeld’s eyes and stabbed Steinfeld in the genitals, Douglas wrote. The probable cause statement does not offer any motive.
On June 13, Steinfeld posted on Instagram that she was coming out as male-to-female, adding later that she was “Trans male to female and I am mostly lesbian but pansexual.”
“I am proud to be me I am proud to be trans I am beautiful I don’t care what people think,” she wrote.