BURLINGTON, Iowa – Retired nurse Jenna Sansone said it was a normal night in the quiet eastern Iowa neighborhood where she lives on a hill above the Mississippi River. Then she heard the “bang-bang-bang” of gunshots and called 911.
Responding officers made a gruesome discovery: the body of a teenager dumped in the alley behind Sansone’s Burlington home, a plastic garbage bag wrapped around the victim’s head. Sansone could smell the bleach that had been poured on the bullet-riddled body, an apparent attempt to destroy DNA evidence.
The March 2016 death of 16-year-old Kedarie Johnson stunned the city of 25,000. It also raised fears that the popular Burlington High School student was the victim of a hate crime because the teenager was gender-fluid — identifying both as male and female, according to relatives, and alternately using his birth name and the female persona “Kandicee.”
On Tuesday, one of two cousins charged with first-degree murder in Johnson’s death is expected to stand trial in the case, which Attorney General Jeff Sessions has highlighted with his unusual decision this month to send a federal hate crimes prosecutor to assist state and local authorities. A decision on federal hate crimes charges is pending, but the prosecutor assigned by Sessions indicated in court documents that Johnson’s gender…