The 25-year-old initially entered a plea of not guilty to first- and second-degree manslaughter and first-degree assault, offering investigators differing accounts of why he punched 21-year-old Nettles in 2013. In all of his statements, however, Dixon admitted to punching Nettles, a fashion designer and Black trans woman, so hard that she fell and hit her head on the ground.
Dixon described encountering Nettles walking with friends while he was partying in Harlem with his own. He said on tape that he tried to hit on her and—after realizing she was trans and enduring his friends’ taunts—he asked if “she was a man” before punching her twice. After lying comatose in a hospital for nearly a week, she succumbed to fatal injuries from the punches and the fall.
“With this conviction, James Dixon has finally been brought to justice for this brutal and lethal assault,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance said in a statement after the guilty plea. “Members of the transgender community are far too often the targets of violent crime.”
If the trial had proceeded, Dixon could have been sentenced to a maximum of 25 years. According to NBC News, the DA initially offered Nettles a 17-year sentence in exchange for admitting his guilt, but Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Robert Stolz revised the deal to reflect 12 years. Dixon will be officially sentenced on April 19.
Latina trans activist Cecilia Gentili told NBC News that she feels Dixon’s actions should have been prosecuted as a hate crime. But she still counts the guilty plea as a victory: “This sends a message that these crimes won’t keep going unpunished as they were in the past.”