Kellie Telesford, a 39 year old black woman, lived in south London where she worked as a florist and beautician. Her body was found by police officers (who had been alerted by her friends, worried because they could not contact her) at her home in Thornton Heath on 21 November last year. She had been strangled with a soft brown fur scarf and her body was on the floor, with only her feet and right hand poking out from a “carefully” draped white throw. The flat “showed signs of disturbance”, appearing to have been searched and items stolen.
Jamaican-born Shanniel Hyatt, then a 17 year old father of one, was arrested on 29 November at his flat in south east London and charged with her murder.
On 17 November, Mr Hyatt had met Ms Telesford outside Norbury train station. His girlfriend was visiting family with their baby that night. Ms Telesford had told colleagues at the salon that she had met a ‘handsome light skinned guy’. After meeting, the pair headed to the victim’s flat – in a police interview Mr Hyatt first claimed he had gone back to her flat for drinks and to watch a DVD, and that he left after 10pm after she had performed a sex act on him. Mr Hyatt admitted taking the phone, but no other possessions.
In further interviews he changed his story several times but insisted he left the flat late that night and went ‘robbing people’ with his friends in South Croydon. CCTV images and mobile telephone records show that Mr Hyatt used Ms Telesford’s Oyster card to catch the bus from her home in the small hours of 18 November. He was carrying a “big bag, probably containing other items that he had stolen”. Mr Hyatt insisted Ms Telesford was alive when he left her flat, although he changed the time he first told the officers he had left, the court heard this week.
Mr Hyatt was been found not guilty of murder and an alternative count of manslaughter, but was remanded in custody on separate immigration matters.
Throughout the trial, Mr Hyatt’s barrister, Joanna Greenberg, has made a case for the defence by means of a sustained attack on Ms Teleford’s character. This victim-blaming has been a successful form of defence because – obviously – Ms Telesford was not available to give her side of the story to the court. Ms Greenberg said that, although Mr Hyatt was a “cheap and nasty thief”, Ms Telesford was “fit and well” when he left her flat.
She suggested that Ms Telesford may have died during a consensual sex game which went wrong, or even that she may have inflicted her fatal injuries herself: yet the Old Bailey heard that when paramedics found her body, the scarf was tied so tightly around her neck they could only get the tips of their fingers inside.
Further, Ms Greenberg posited that the alleged consensual sex that took place involved “kinky sex”. Even though “kinky sex” doesn’t seem to have been clearly defined – and even though the idea that Ms Telesford died from a sex act that went disastrously wrong was denied by Dr Kenneth Shorrock, who examined the body.
He told the jury: “There was nothing which suggests this was a sex act.
“There are usually sex toys, mirrors and pornography.
“This is just an ordinary rather cluttered room with a body.
“To put it simply, there was no evidence of kinky sex. If you take that out of the equation, you just have a strangled body.’
I wonder what the inclusion of the idea of “kinky sex” says about the attitudes of both the mass media and certain sections of wider society. As has been suggested elsewhere, this defence strategy could conceivably be applied to all similar cases, especially within the queer community. For example, the media depiction of lesbians inevitably seems to focus on sex aids and strap ons: the implication being that they are, somehow, indulging in “kinky sex”.
In other words, women who partake in a varied and experimental sex life are somehow threatening the established order and therefore inevitably leave themselves open to victim-blaming accusations, such as “What did she expect? She was asking for it wearing that miniskirt“, or as in this case, “If she hadn’t been indulging in ‘kinky sex’, she wouldn’t have died“. In my opinion, this mysogynistic mindset, which attempts to give credence to the idea that Othering is acceptable, is the reason that Mr Hyatt’s defence was successful – despite there being “no evidence of kinky sex”.
And, of course, this result distinguishes this trial for the murder of a black trans woman from many other similar trials, because it means that there was no need to use the more common trans panic defence.
A gentle reminder: As usual comments are enabled and will be moderated by the post author before publication. Please remember there may be a delay between comments being submitted and their appearance on the blog.