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A love affair unraveled before a Black transgender woman was fatally shot in rural South Carolina

Feb 22, 2024, 9:05 PM

In combo of undated selfie images provided courtesy of the Dime Doe family, show Dime Doe, a Black ...

In combo of undated selfie images provided courtesy of the Dime Doe family, show Dime Doe, a Black transgender woman. Doe's August 2019 death is now the subject of a first-of-its-kind federal hate crimes trial that began this week in Columbia, S.C. (Courtesy Dime Doe Family via AP)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Courtesy Dime Doe Family via AP)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A Black transgender woman and the guy she was secretly dating had just been pulled over in rural South Carolina. Dime Doe, the driver, was worried. She already had points against her license and didn’t want another ticket to stop her from getting behind the wheel. Daqua Lameek Ritter, whom she affectionately called “my man,” frequently relied on her for rides.

Everything seemed to turn out OK: Doe sent a text message to her mother that afternoon saying she got a $72 ticket but was “alright.”

Hours later, police found her slumped over in the driver’s seat of her car, parked in a driveway off a secluded road. Her death on Aug. 4, 2019, is now the subject of the nation’s first federal trial over an alleged hate crime based on gender identity, which started Tuesday.

Much of what transpired in the roughly two-and-a-half hours between the last time Doe was seen and the discovery of her body remains unclear. But as prosecutors wrap up their case this week, more details are emerging about the furtive connection between the 24-year-old Doe — remembered by friends as an outspoken party lover with long lashes and blunt bob hairstyles — and Ritter, a man whose distinctive left wrist tattoo is captured in body camera footage from the traffic stop.

The U.S. Department of Justice alleges that Ritter fatally shot Doe to prevent further exposure of their affair in a small country town where the rumor mill was already churning. Text exchanges between the pair show Ritter tried to dispel gossip of the dalliance in the weeks preceding Doe’s death. He also followed the investigation of her killing while coyly answering his regular girlfriend’s questions, according to testimony given during the trial.

It was no secret in Allendale, South Carolina — a town of 8,000 people — that Doe had begun her social transition as a woman shortly after graduating high school, according to testimony from her close friends. Doe started dressing in skirts, getting her nails done and wearing extensions. She and her friends went out drinking. They discussed boys they were seeing.

One of those boys was Ritter, who came from New York to stay with his grandmother in Allendale during the summertime. Doe and Ritter started to grow close over the course of those visits, leaving Delasia Green — Ritter’s regular girlfriend in the summer of 2019 — with a “gut feeling” that something was up.

Ritter initially told Green that he and Doe were cousins, the girlfriend testified this week. But then one day, she found messages on his phone from an unsaved number that spoke of “getting a room.” She assumed they were from Doe.

When Green confronted Ritter, he became upset and told her that she shouldn’t question his sexuality, she said.

Yanna Albany, Doe’s cousin, testified that she too had a relationship with Ritter that summer but ended it after about three weeks when Doe told her she was also seeing him. Albany said when she broke up with Ritter, he turned red, threatened to beat Doe for “lying on him” and used a homophobic slur.

Nonetheless, Doe’s relationship with Ritter seemed to grow stronger after the entanglement, Albany said. Other friends said Doe never mentioned any drama between the two.

Still, texts obtained by the FBI suggest that Ritter sought to keep their connection under wraps as much as possible. He would remind Doe to delete their communications from her phone, and the majority of the hundreds of texts sent in the month before her death were removed.

Shortly before Doe’s death, the text messages started getting tense. In a July 29, 2019, message, she complained that Ritter did not reciprocate her generosity toward him. He replied that he thought they had an understanding that she didn’t need the “extra stuff.” He also told her that Green had recently insulted him with a homophobic slur. In a July 31 text, Doe said she felt used and that Ritter should never have let his girlfriend find out about them.

Ritter’s defense attorneys said the sampling of messages introduced by the prosecution represented only a “snapshot” of their exchanges. They pointed to a July 18 text in which Doe encouraged Ritter, and another exchange where Ritter thanked Doe for one of her many kindnesses.

But witnesses delivered other potentially damning testimony against Ritter.

On the day Doe died, a group of friends saw the defendant ride away in a silver car with tinted windows — a vehicle that Ritter’s acquaintance Kordell Jenkins testified he had seen Doe drive previously. When Ritter returned to play cards several hours later, Jenkins said he wore a new outfit and appeared “on edge.” It was a buggy summer day, and the group of four began building a fire in a barrel to smoke out the mosquitoes.

At one point, Ritter emptied his book bag into the barrel, Jenkins testified. He said he couldn’t see the contents, but assumed they were items Ritter no longer wanted, possibly the clothes he’d worn earlier that day.

When the two ran into each other the following day, Jenkins said he could see the silver handle of a small firearm sticking out from the waistline of Ritter’s pants. He said Ritter asked him to “get it gone.”

Defense attorneys argued it was preposterous to think that Ritter would ask someone he barely knew to dispose of an alleged murder weapon.

But soon after Doe died, Allendale was abuzz with rumors that Ritter had killed her.

Green testified that when he showed up later that week at her cousin’s house in Columbia, he was dirty, smelly and couldn’t stop pacing. Her cousin’s boyfriend gave Ritter a ride to the bus stop, presumably so he could return to New York. Before he left, Green asked him if he had killed Doe.

“He dropped his head and gave me a little smirk,” Green said.

Ritter monitored the fallout from Doe’s death from New York, according to FBI Special Agent Clay Trippi, citing Facebook messages between Ritter and a friend from Allendale, Xavier Pinckney. On Aug. 11, Pinckney told Ritter nobody was “really talking,” which Trippi said he took as a reference to scant cooperation with police.

But by Aug. 14, Pinckney was warning Ritter to stay away from Allendale because he’d been visited by state police. He later said that somebody was “snitching.”

Trippi testified that his sources never again saw Ritter in Allendale for the summers following Doe’s death.

In January 2023, federal officials charged Ritter with a “hate crime for the murder of a transgender woman because of her gender identity,” using a firearm in connection with the hate crime and obstruction of justice. They also charged Pinckney with obstructing justice, saying he provided false and misleading statements.

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Pollard is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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A love affair unraveled before a Black transgender woman was fatally shot in rural South Carolina