Dallas trans author’s new book tells the story of her friend’s murder, and imagines getting revenge
DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer
Two decades before the assault on Muhlaysia Booker followed by her murder made national headlines, there was Tanesha Duvall, a Dallas transgender woman who was shot in the head for no other reason than that she was a transgender woman.
Brandee F. Kassadine has written about her experience as a witness in the trial of Duvall’s murderer, asking, “What if we got revenge?” She explores the options in her book A Diva’s Revenge, set to be released Saturday, Sept. 17. She’s already written a sequel, and it is set for a Valentine’s Day release.
Kassadine said at the time she met Duvall, she was a student at Walt Whitman High School, the experimental and ahead-of-its-time LGBTQ school that started on the campus of Cathedral of Hope before moving to its own building on Maple Avenue.
She described Duvall as “ahead of her time” and “more mature in her transition.” She was convincing, Kassadine said, adding “If you’d seen her, you wouldn’t know.” But that led Duvall to be “reckless and dangerous. [She] didn’t tell guys that she was transgender.”
Kassadine remembers being there when Duvall met Michael Manning, the man who eventually killed her.
“We were driving,” Kassadine recalled, saying that Duvall pointed Manning out to her, and “I told her he looked good in a tank top.”
The two young women stopped in a liquor store parking lot where Duvall and Manning exchanged pager numbers. (It was, afterall, the year 2001, Kassadine pointed out.)
Then Duvall paged Manning, and Manning paged her back. The plan was for Duvall to meet up with Manning and for Kassadine to meet up with Manning’s friend Smoky.
But Kassadine decided not to go and meet Smokey because she didn’t know what he looked like. Another young trans woman named Lashay went with Duvall instead to pick up Manning and Smoky.
But things did not go as planned: “Smoky had a gun, and he figured out Tanesha was trans,” Kassadine said.
At that point, she said, Smoky handed the gun to Manning, and Manning shot Duvall in the head. Lashay was able to jump out of the car and hide in some bushes by the side of the road. Manning got out of the car to look for her but when he couldn’t find Lashay, Manning returned to the car and shot Duvall a second time to make sure she was dead. Then the two men fled.
Police found Duvall’s body in the car. Manning’s number was in Duvall’s pager, and Smoky’s semen was found on Duvall’s panties, Kassadine said.
The murder took place during the summer, but Manning wasn’t caught until November. “Because we’re trans, when we’re killed it’s not a big thing,” Kassadine said. “There was no major search for him.”
Instead, police eventually went to Manning’s mother, arranging with her to find and arrest her son. He was arrested when he showed up at his mother’s house for Thanksgiving dinner.
Manning was the only one of the two assailants charged with murder. Smoky made a deal to testify and wasn’t even charged, Kassadine said, even though he was the one who handed Manning the gun.
During the trial, defense attorneys used the classic “trans panic defense,” Kassadine said, explaining that Mannings’ attorneys tried to paint Tanesha as being less than a human being, stressing to the jury that the young woman was just a homeless sex worker — as if that were justification for murdering her.
Kassadine said one of the attorneys told the jury that Duvall “asked to be killed” and that Manning “didn’t know what she was.”
The whole purpose of their language was to dehumanize Duvall, to give the jury a way to let Manning off the hook.
During the trial, Kassadine said, Manning’s father and sisters became so belligerent that the judge had them removed from the courtroom. As for Kassadine and other witnesses, “marshals escorted us to our cars” at the end of each day.
The trial lasted four days total. And despite the defense attorneys’ efforts, the Dallas County jury didn’t buy the trans panic defense. In fact, jurors deliberated for less than an hour before returning a verdict of guilty and sentencing Manning to decades behind bars.
“The jury found he had options to leave the situation,” Kassadine said of the verdict. “He really thought he could beat it and that he was the victim.” He was so surprised, she said, that when the verdict was announced, he appeared to be in shock.
According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website, Manning is sentenced to jail until 2081, but he comes up for parole in 2031.
That is what happened in real life. A Diva’s Revenge is Kassadine’s memory of the events surrounding Duvall’s murder coupled with her version of revenge.
“It has all ‘the bad’ people want when they read urban novels,” Kassadine said of her book. “My target audience are people in prison.”
Kassadine said she hopes people take from her book that everyone should co-exist.
“Don’t pass judgement,” she said. “Stop misgendering us.”
A Diva’s Revenge is available to purchase at foxxxworthymedia.com
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So so proud of your Brandee!