DALLAS (AP) — The mother of a Black transgender woman who was fatally shot in Dallas in 2019 on Thursday tearfully insisted to the man who pleaded guilty in the slaying that she will continue the advocacy work that her 22-year-year-old daughter started.
“Her body might not be here but her spirit lives in her legacy here, and I’m going to keep my baby’s name alive,” Stephanie Houston, the mother of Muhlaysia Booker, said in her victim impact statement in court.
Kendrell Lyles, 37, pleaded guilty to murder Monday as jury selection was set to begin, and was sentenced to 48 years in prison. Authorities haven't revealed Lyles' motive for killing Booker, and Lyles' attorney has said he doesn't know why he did it.
About a month before Booker was killed, she was beaten by several men in an unrelated attack as a crowd gathered after a minor traffic accident. The attack was caught on cellphone video and shared widely on social media. Booker, who was hospitalized, told police that the people who attacked her used homophobic slurs.
The violence that befell Booker in her short life exemplifies threats faced by transgender people, and especially Black transgender women, across the U.S. She was shaken but resolute when she spoke at a rally held after the attack, telling supporters: “This time, I can stand before you, whereas in other scenarios, we are at a memorial.”
Booker's friend, Jordan Ford, said in court Thursday that the assault didn't break her spirit, instead it inspired her to speak out.
“Muhlaysia took it upon herself to raise awareness about the hate and violence that transgender individuals face every day," Ford said. "She refused to be silenced by adversity and her unwavering determination inspired many.”
Ford said Booker not only took the time to mentor younger LGBTQ+ people but also would go live on social media to let them know “it's OK to be true to who you are.”
Booker’s body was found the morning of May 18, 2019, on a Dallas street. Police said they identified Lyles as the suspect while investigating the deaths of a man and woman who were killed in separate shootings in the days after Booker’s slaying. Lyles was also charged in the deaths of those two victims, according to police. The other two victims were not transgender.
Booker got into a vehicle matching the description of one Lyles drove about three hours before her body was found, an arrest warrant said. A witness told investigators that Lyles frequented the area to meet with transgender sex workers, according to the warrant.
Houston told Lyles that she had warned her daughter about people like him.
“I warned my baby about the devil and that day she got in the car with the devil,” said Houston, adding that her daughter was shot three times and thrown out of the car “like she was trash.”
“You just looked at her like a transgender prostitute but she was more than that,” said Houston, who started the Muhlaysia Booker Foundation to support transgender people after her daughter’s death.
Texas is among states where transgender people have been targeted with a growing number of laws and policies, including restrictions on gender-affirming care, public bathroom use and participation in sports.
Since 2013, the Human Rights Campaign's public education and research team has identified at least 334 transgender and gender-nonconforming people killed by violence across the U.S. Of those, 75% have been transgender women of color and almost 62% have been Black transgender women. And, HRC said, almost 10% of those killings happened in Texas — more than any other state.