Assailant of trans woman seeks new trial

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    Illustration by Ash Cheshire

    Marcus Jones, who brutally assaulted trans woman Michelle Hill in August 2015, has filed a petition with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, seeking a new trial.

    Jones, 27, told authorities that Hill was performing oral sex on him in an alley in North Philadelphia on Aug. 18, 2015, when he became aware that she had a penis, and he flew into a rage. 

    The incident was captured by a surveillance camera and showed Jones punching Hill about 30 times and stomping on her head about eight times, before taking her purse and leaving her for dead.

    Hill was in Hahnemann Hospital for a month, recovering from the assault. She was unconscious for approximately three weeks and placed on a ventilator. She suffered spinal fractures, her nose was broken, she required eye surgery, and she still cannot use her legs, according to court records, 

    Hill didn’t testify during Jones’ May 2017 trial due to being incapacitated by her injuries. Common Pleas Judge Susan I. Schulman rejected Jones’ trans-panic defense. She convicted Jones of attempted murder and related crimes and sentenced him to a minimum of 13 years in state prison. 

    In a November 2019 opinion, Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld Schulman’s ruling. “[Jones] argues that his actions were not deliberate or well-reasoned and stemmed from rage and anger caused by the fact that the victim was not a woman, but a man,” the opinion states. “As such, [Jones] contends that it is clear that he snapped and lost control of his faculties rather than coldly and calculatingly deciding to kill the victim.” 

    Pennsylvania Superior Court’s opinion continues: “Here, the [surveillance] video shows that [Jones] repeatedly punched and kicked the victim in the head while she struggled to rise from the ground and escape. After enduring multiple strikes, the victim finally lost consciousness and laid motionless on the concrete. While [the victim] was unconscious, motionless, and defenseless, [Jones] violently stomped on her head several times. [Jones] was not acting in self-defense and had already beaten the victim into bloody unconsciousness by the time that he repeatedly bludgeoned her head with his foot. These acts themselves establish a compelling inference that [Jones] intended to kill the victim and thus sustain [Jones’] conviction of attempted murder.”

    The Pennsylvania Superior Court also rejected Jones’ argument there was no evidence of premeditation.

    “[Jones] concedes that he snapped when he recognized that the victim had male genitalia. It was in that fraction of a second that [Jones] formulated an intent to kill the victim. [Jones’] subsequent actions of beating the victim unconscious with his fists and then continually stomping on her head while she was defenseless on the ground showed an intent to kill the victim. The trial court properly inferred that [Jones] intended the natural and probable consequences of his acts. Accordingly, we conclude there was sufficient evidence to support [Jones’] attempted murder conviction.”

    In his petition to the state Supreme Court, Jones emphasizes that a statement he provided to police about the incident wasn’t obtained from him properly. He also argues that his robbery conviction should be dismissed because he took Hill’s purse as an “afterthought,” rather than deliberately injuring her so he could steal her purse. 

    According to state Department of Corrections information, Jones remains incarcerated at a state prison in Benner Township, Pa. The earliest he can be released is Aug. 19, 2028.

    Cameron Kline, a spokesperson for the DA’s office, declined to comment. “[B]ecause it is an active case with the filing [in Pa. Supreme Court], we won’t be able to comment,” Kline said in a Jan. 15 email.

    John M. Belli, an attorney for Jones, also declined to comment for this story.