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Murphy Pleads Guilty to Murder of F.C. Martinez

Sentencing Set for May 16

[CORTEZ, CO] ? Accused murderer Shaun Murphy pleaded guilty February 5, 2002, to second-degree murder for the bludgeoning death of 16-year-old Fred (Fredericka) C. Martinez. Martinez's partially decomposed body was found in a shallow canyon on the edge of the city of Cortez on June 21, 2001. Many in the local community and community at large believe that Martinez was murdered because of his* female gender expression. Murphy is currently facing a prison sentence ranging from four to 48 years for the crime.

[*This article uses male pronouns to describe Martinez purely for clarity's sake. The word "his" should be read as "his/her" and "he" as "he/she" to incorporate Martinez's full gender identity.]

Transgendered Teen

Fred (Fredericka) C. Martinez, 16.
Martinez went by the initials "F.C." A Navajo youth, Martinez often carried a purse, wore eye makeup and a tissue-stuffed bra under his T-shirt, and kept his dark hair curled and styled like a woman's. When expressing his female gender identity, he went by the name Fredericka. He was described as "two-spirited," an American Indian term for someone who is transgendered or possessing both a female and male gender identity.

Martinez was born in Arizona, the youngest of five boys. He moved to Cortez, Colorado, with his mother and brothers in the early 1990s, when he was in grade school.

"F.C. was my youngest child. He lived to the age of 16 years and was always ready to bring a laugh or smile to my heart when I needed it the most," said his mother Pauline Mitchell, through sobs and tears. "He was a free spirit and I loved him for his spirit and all of who he was."

He was a typical boy, Mitchell said. "He used to love dressing up like a cowboy, loved playing with toy cars, loved horses." About three years ago, when he was in middle school, he changed, his mother said. "All of a sudden, he started wanting to wear makeup."

When she asked him why, "he said, 'Because I like it.' He just told me and all his brothers that that's how he was going to be. That's how he felt comfortable. And he said, 'It's up to you guys if you want to accept it.'"

In time, Mitchell said, they did.

Mitchell said that when her son referred to his gender identity, he occasionally used the Navajo word nadleehi, an ancient term in their culture. Long before Europeans settled on this continent, according to anthropologists, dozens of Native American tribes accepted men with feminine temperaments who adopted the dress and social roles of women and who typically preferred sexual relations with other men.

Robin Flores, 16, a friend of Martinez's since elementary school, also accepted his gender identity. In fact, she said, the two became closer.

"He would come over my house and I'd help him curl his hair," she recalled. "Or I'd help him put his makeup on. And we'd try on clothes together, or we'd play Monopoly, or play cards, or play video games."

Intolerance at School

In school, Martinez faced insults and harassment from other students and disapproval from school officials for being honest about being transgendered. His manner of dress prompted school officials to send him home "more times than I can remember," his mother said. Students would use anti-gay slurs "and say he was ugly, and why did he act like a girl when he was a boy?" recalled Flores. She described a gentle youth who masked his pain with a smile.

Flores said her friend, in public, rarely betrayed the pain from being singled out in school. But "he'd cry a lot with me" in private, she said. Last winter, he quit high school and enrolled in an evening program for adults seeking diplomas.

"I know it hurt," Flores said. "I wanted to say something back to those kids, but he'd tell me, 'No, no, it's okay -- it's just words.'"

The Criminal Case

On the night of June 16, Martinez left his mother's trailer home, saying he was headed to a local carnival. When his body was found on June 21, investigators concluded that someone had fractured his skull with a blood stained boulder found at the scene. Investigators believe that Martinez succumbed to his injuries and the elements over the five day period, resulting in his death.

Shaun Murphy, 18.
In a court affidavit, investigators alleged that 18-year-old Shaun Murphy, who apparently did not know Martinez, encountered him on a Cortez street June 16, the night Martinez was last seen alive. According to the affidavit, Murphy was later heard "bragging" to friends that he had "beat up a fag."

Murphy, a former Cortez resident with a record of violence as a juvenile, was on probation when authorities arrested him in early July, a few weeks after the slaying.

Prior to his plea, Murphy was facing a possible sentence of life in prison or the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder pursuant to robbery -- a charge filed by the Montezuma County District Attorney's Office after evidence was submitted to support the claim that Martinez was robbed when the homicide occurred. Murphy was also facing a charge of second-degree murder.

In return for Murphy's plea of guilty to the second-degree murder charge, prosecutors for the 22nd Judicial District agreed to drop a first-degree murder charge and another charge of attempted escape for an incident that occurred after the homicide while Murphy was in the Montezuma County Jail. Murphy now faces a prison sentence ranging from four to 48 years for the crime.

Call for Expanded Hate Crimes Law

Since Murphy did not know Martinez, there is evidence to support that Martinez may have been targeted because of his feminine gender expression or appearance. Murphy may have also inferred from Martinez's appearance that he was gay.

Transgender rights activists say they believe he was murdered because of his nonconforming gender expression and perceived sexual orientation, based on alleged incriminating remarks by the suspect in the case. They say it illustrates the need for an expanded hate crimes law in Colorado that would cover bias-motivated attacks based on gender identity and expression.

But authorities so far have not called Martinez's slaying a bias-motivated crime, saying they lack conclusive evidence.

"We want bias-motivated violence to stop," said Carolyn Wagner, national vice president of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, whose gay son survived a vicious beating in Fayetteville, Ark., five years ago. "And one of the ways to stop it is to publicly call it what it is and send a strong message that it will not be tolerated."

In every annual legislative session since 1994, Colorado lawmakers have defeated bills that would have enhanced penalties for violence motivated based on the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity. The state's Ethnic Intimidation Act, passed in 1988, provides such penalties only when violence is motivated by victims' race, skin color, ancestry, religion or national origin.

The Martinez murder has garnered attention across Colorado and the nation because of the possibility that his gender identity or sexual orientation played a role in the murder. Partly in response to Martinez's murder, State Rep. Mark Larson, R-Cortez, has introduced a bias-motivated crimes bill that would expand the state's ethnic intimidation laws to include crimes motivated by sexual orientation, gender identity, age and disability.

The case of a 16-year-old youth beaten with a rock and left to die on a lonely stretch of dust because of his sexual orientation or feminine appearance likely would be a potent symbol when debate over the hate crimes issue resumes in the next legislative session, activists said.

The trial had been scheduled to begin March 4.

Murphy is set to be sentenced on May 16 at 9 a.m.

Related Stories:

Mar 29, 2002 - Denver Teen Attacked for Her Gender Expression

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