CHARLOTTE, NC (Michael Gordon/The Charlotte Observer) - In a case involving shifting roles of victim and aggressor, a transgender woman mauled by hatchet-wielding teenagers faces a lengthy prison sentence for a public sex act with a minor while two of her attackers appear to be in line for far lesser punishment.
Last fall, Ralayzia Taylor performed oral sex on a 15-year-old boy in a Charlotte park, police say. A short time later, the juvenile and two of his friends attacked the transgender woman with a hatchet or small ax, leaving deep wounds on her head and back.
Under potential plea deals with prosecutors, two of the accused attackers could receive probation in the case. Taylor, however, faces the possibility of decades in prison, a striking disparity in potential punishments for those involved.
Over the weekend, LGBT advocates in Charlotte took to social media to highlight the case, with several posters alleging that Taylor has been singled out because she is transgender. About 30 supporters filled three rows in a Charlotte-Mecklenburg courtroom Tuesday before Taylor's arraignment was rescheduled.
Legal experts say the more relevant issues may be the vagaries of North Carolina's sentencing guidelines and the judgments police and prosecutors make on what charges will be brought to court. Further muddling the notion of justice in this case is the fact that two of those charged with serious crimes – Taylor and the 15-year-old – are also considered crime victims.
Taylor, also known as Derrick Horton, is charged with two felonies: statutory sex offense with a child 15 or younger; and felony indecent liberties with a child. Both are felonies. The former is classified as a much more serious B1 crime, which under North Carolina law carries a maximum sentence in Taylor's case of more than 30 years in prison.
Taylor's arraignment, which was scheduled for Tuesday, has been moved to late July. That would give prosecutors and Taylor's defense team of Missy Owen and Jake Sussman ample time to negotiate a possible guilty plea to a lesser charge, if both parties are of the mind. Neither side would comment this week on the ongoing case.
Under a plea agreement announced in Gaston County this week, a former Cherryville High School teacher could avoid jail time altogether after pleading to guilty to having sex with a former student. Summer Sparrow's victim was 17, however, and she was arrested under a charge that is considered far less serious than the accusation against Taylor.
Taylor's three accused attackers from November were each charged with attempted murder, also a B1 felony. Dajion Tanner and Destiny Dagraca, both 18, were also charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon, kidnapping and felony conspiracy.
But those accusations are no longer in play for at least one of the teens. According to the Mecklenburg County District Attorney's Office, Dagraca pleaded guilty in March to accessory after the fact to assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury. She was sentenced to 14-26 months in prison.
Dagraca had already served 93 days in jail at the time of her plea. The judge suspended the rest of her punishment pending her completion of a 30-month probation. She must also wear an electronic monitor for a year or until she earns her GED.
All this came about because after reviewing the facts, prosecutors chose to consolidate multiple charges against the teenager into one, lesser count and the judge chose to give Dagraca probation.
Tanner's arraignment is scheduled for Aug. 3. While a district attorney spokeswoman said prosecutors cannot discuss his case, sources tell the Observer that Tanner has been offered a similar plea deal as Dagraca, even though he had a previous criminal history. Tanner's attorney did not respond to an Observer email seeking comment about the case.
At the time of the assault on Taylor, Tanner was serving two years' probation from a July conviction for common law robbery. According to jail records, Tanner has been arrested at least five times.
Sources tell the Observer that he and Dagraca are believed to have held Taylor down while the minor hit her with the hatchet. In an interview with the Observer after the attack, Taylor said she recalled a female voice calling off the assault. "She's already bloody enough," the female voice said, according to Taylor.