Crystal Blakeney said before her daughter was murdered, she seemed to be growing into the person she always wanted to be.
Keyonna Monroe Blakeney spent nearly 20 years of her life as Crystal’s youngest child and only son, until she revealed at the age of 19 that she intended to transition into a female. After a series of questions, Crystal said she “could do nothing but accept it.”
“Life is short. I’m going to love my child no matter what,” she said.
Complete with her transition into a transgender woman, the 22-year-old was finally coming into her own. She had transformed her hobby for doing makeup into a burgeoning business, offering cosmetic services for proms, weddings and other special occasions in the D.C. area, and was soon set to move into her own apartment after months of unstable housing.
“She was getting her life together and she was happy,” Crystal said of her daughter.
But things changed on a Friday night in April 2016 when Blakeney set out to celebrate her birthday.
According to court documents, Arbra Bethea, who was 17 at the time, had arranged to meet Blakeney in her Rockville, Maryland, hotel room under the false pretense of a date and instead intended to rob her with the help of Keith Renier, 22.
The next morning, Blakeney was found dead in the room with multiple stab wounds, the result of a confrontation between her and Renier.
The Human Rights Campaign tracked at least 22 violent deaths of transgender people in the United States last year and at least 18 so far this year. The District and surrounding areas have recently seen breakthroughs in its several cases involving the murders of transgender people.
On Aug. 18, a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge sentenced Renier, 22, to the maximum of 30 years for second-degree murder. Bethea, who remains held without bond, awaits a Nov. 9 sentencing hearing after pleading guilty to accessory to murder after the fact.
“We want to fight to make sure he gets the maximum too,” Crystal said. “I thought my children would bury me. There is nothing like losing a child.”
Just days before Renier’s sentencing, a jury acquitted Gary Montgomery, 60, of all murder charges for the 2012 fatal stabbing of Deoni Jones, 23, at a bus stop in Northeast after the defense argued that police arrested the wrong man.
The case against Montgomery stalled due to a lack of DNA evidence and eyewitnesses, and a four-minute segment in security footage that did not show Montgomery or Jones.
Prosecutors argued Montgomery became infatuated with Jones as they sat at a bus stop on Feb. 2, 2012 and stabbed Jones in the head with a kitchen knife in a fit of rage when she ignored his advances. But the defense argued that when the two could not be seen in the video, Montgomery left the scene minutes before the real killer appeared at the bus stop.
Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Peter Newsham said he was “deeply disappointed” in the verdict.
“My thoughts are with the family, friends, and community of Ms. Jones, who have been deprived first of a loved one, and now of a measure of closure,” he said.
But MPD had not stated whether they will reopen the case.
The District currently has the highest rate of transgender identifying residents per capita in the country, according to a 2016 Williams Institute study. About 14,550 D.C. residents identify as transgender and many of them are African-American.
Terrance L. Laney, deputy director of the Mayor’s Office LGBTQ Affairs, said the District’s transgender community is not typically subjected to violence like other places in the United Sates, but often face other “threatening” acts like street harassment.
The office will work with the community to develop an impact statement regarding the results of Montgomery’s trial.
“When a transgender person is targeted or murdered, it does have an impact on other transgender folks,” Laney said. “It even makes the broader community feel less safe.”
The cases are two of several local incidents involving the murder of transgender women. In July, Rico LeBlond, 22, was convicted of shooting transgender woman Zella Ziona, 21, in the head during a confrontation near a mall in Gaithersburg in 2015.