The man accused of killing Muhlaysia Booker is scheduled for his day in court
DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer
On Monday, Nov. 6, more than four years after Muhlaysia Booker was found shot to death on an East Dallas street, the murder trial begins for Kendrell Lavar Lyles, the man charged in her death. The trial will be held in Judge Carter Thompson’s court in the Crowley Courts building.
Dallas police on Saturday, May 18, at about 6:44 a.m., reported that the body of a Black woman had been found lying face down in the 7200 block of Valley Glen Drive. At about 3 p.m. the following day, police issued a statement identifying that woman as trans woman Muhlaysia Booker.
Booker was the fourth transgender woman, all of them Black trans women, to be murdered in 2019. But unlike the three earlier deaths that year — and unlike the murders of most trans, gender non-binary and gender nonconforming people — her murder immediately garnered national headlines, because Booker was already the focus of national headlines focused on anti-transgender violence.
A month before her murder, on April 12, Booker made national news when a video showing her being beaten by several men as a crowd of onlookers laughed and cheered on her attackers went viral.
That first attack happened after Booker was involved in a minor fender bender in her South Dallas apartment complex, bumping into another car as she was backing out to leave. The other driver blocked Booker’s car, holding her at gunpoint and refusing to let her leave until she gave him money to pay for the damage to his car.
As the two argued, a crowd gathered, and someone pulled out a cell phone and began to record the confrontation. Someone allegedly offered a 29-year-old man named Edward Thomas $500 to beat up Booker, and the crowd closed in around, laughing and jeering and shouting transphobic and homophobic slurs as Thomas assaulted the young woman.
Then other men joined in, punching, kicking and stomping Booker as she lay huddled on the ground. By the time several women stepped in to stop the attack and help Booker to safety, she had suffered a concussion, fractured wrists and numerous other injuries.
Someone uploaded the video to social media. It quickly gained national attention and put a spotlight on the epidemic of violence against the transgender community, especially trans women of color.
Thomas was arrested and charged with aggravated assault. He eventually pleaded guilty to a reduced misdemeanor charge.
A month later, when Booker was found dead, suspicion immediately focused on Thomas. But he had an air-tight alibi and was quickly ruled out as a suspect in her murder.
Funeral services for Muhlaysia Booker were held Tuesday, May 28, drawing an overflow crowd that included local and state elected officials to Cathedral of Hope. At least one local news station broadcast the services live from the church.
By the time of Booker’s funeral the number of trans women murdered so far in 2019 had risen to seven — again, all Black trans women. Four days after her funeral, 26-year-old Black trans woman Chynal Lindsey’s body was found in White Rock Lake.
Dallas police began considering the possibility that Booker’s and Lindsey’s murders could be connected with a non-fatal knife attack earlier in April on a Black trans woman in Dallas and with several other murders of trans women in Dallas over the previous several years
Police redoubled their efforts. LGBTQ Liaison Amber Roman met with Abounding Prosperity Inc., an organization that had stepped in to help Booker after the April assault, and contacted Dallas Voice pleading for anyone with information to step forward.
Then on June 12, Dallas police announced the arrest of Lyles, 34, for the murder of Muhlaysia Booker. He had been arrested in Collin County in connection with the murder of two people in a drug deal gone bad. A witness placed his car in East Dallas at the last place Booker was seen alive.
Although he was initially considered a suspect in the deaths of three other trans murder victims, including Lindsey, and the April knife attack on another trans woman, he hasn’t been charged in any of those cases.
On June 20, police announced they had arrested 22-year-old Ruben Alvarado and charged him with the murder of Chynal Lindsey. Although that murder occurred within a week of Booker’s, it was apparently unrelated.
But it was Booker’s assault and murder that made national news and that people remember.
Booker’s mom, Stephanie Houston, started the Muhlaysia Booker Foundation in her memory. Ahmad Goree is president and board chair.
Goree said he only met Booker briefly before the assault that April. He described her as energetic and loved by the people she was with. The weeks of her life after the assault were difficult, he said, and, while she remained endearing, it was a difficult time for her, and she became withdrawn.
Goree said the circumstances leading up to Booker’s murder, including the viral video of Booker being so violently assaulted, brought into horrifying reality for many people the violence and danger Black transgender women face daily — violence and danger, he stressed, that often cost them their lives.
The video, Booker’s brutal death and the ever-rising toll of death and violence against trans women that followed in their wake made this murder a national story, when so many others had faded into the background.
Looking for closure
Goree said Lyles’ trial should bring closure to Houston and her family and to Booker’s friends. The foundation Stephanie Houston created in her daughter’s memory provides support of all kinds to the transgender community and emotional support to their families. Houston has spoken to families of transgender people around the world in the four and a half years since her daughter was killed.
On a recent trip to Washington D.C., Houston and Goree met with a variety of national leaders, including senior advisors at the White House. They spoke with Justice Department officials to discuss hate crime reporting, and with Assistant Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, the highest ranking transgender government official, at HUD to discuss housing discrimination, and with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and FBI officials.
“All were familiar with the case,” Goree said.
He said with all the anti-transgender pieces of legislation that have passed in Texas and other states, the foundation’s work is more important today than when it was founded several years ago.
Goree said that for Houston, telling Muhlaysia’s story and how she adjusted to her child’s transition is a misson of passion. He said she incorporates her faith into the guidance and mentoring she provides.
“We want people to remember Muhlaysia as a person who left this life, and now her story is educating people about what people who look like her are going through,” Goree said. Supporting the foundation, he explained, helps more people have a healthy transition and maintain family bonds. Supporting the Muhlaysia Booker Foundation supports the community overall, he added.
In the four and a half years since Muhlaysia Booker’s murder on May 18, 2019, at least 192 transgender/gender nonconforming individuals have been murdered in the United States.