Trans woman found fatally stabbed on roadside, her attacker claims ‘Trans panic’ defence
Fern Feather, a young transgender woman living in Vermont, was stabbed to death and left to die on a Morristown roadside on Tuesday morning.
As the conservative (and Christian) right continue their crusade to demonise and dehumanise LGBTQ+ people, the bodies are piling up and trans woman Fern Feather of Vermont is the latest victim.
29-year-old Feather (she/her or they/them) was found stabbed to death on Tuesday (12 April) along a road in Morristown, the man charged has since made statements amounting to a “trans panic” defence.
Autopsy results obtained by NBC5 showed that Feather died of a stab wound to the chest and their death is being ruled a homicide.
Fearn’s death marks at least the 12th violent killing of a trans or gender non-conforming person in 2022, reports the Human Rights Campaign, although the actual number is likely higher due to misgendering or lack of reporting.
Feather had picked up hitchhiker Seth Brunell, 43, a few days before her murder, and they had been spending time together leading up to the attack, VT Digger reports.
Police encountered the two in a car the morning of Feather’s murder. Witnesses had seen Feather and Brunell in a parking lot on Tuesday morning and called the police because the pair had been there for an extended period.
Feather and Brunell told the officers they were simply looking for a place to walk their dogs.
About two hours later, a passer-by found her bleeding body on a roadside. First responders declared her dead at the scene.
Brunell used a 12-inch knife to stab her and then used her phone to call Eliza Curtis, a friend of Feather’s, to confess, claiming she “had come on [to him]” and “was going crazy”.
He claimed Heather had made sexual advances, tried to attack him and that he was just trying to defend himself.
However Vermont State Police investigators found no evidence of a struggle, an assault, or any weapons on Feather.
Vermont outlawed the ‘gay panic’ or ‘LGBT+ panic’ defence, where defendants use a victim’s gender identity or sexual orientation as a justification for their criminal actions when in court, as of May 2021.
Brunell has been charged with second degree murder, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, and held without bail.
In March, in a Facebook post only a month before her death, Feather wrote about identifying as a trans woman, “It’s time to tell the world I’m a Hot Trans Woman in a currently male Hot Body Suit !! dang sure took long enough eh ?!”
Following her murder, People’s Pride Vermont, the state LGBTQ organization, commented, “Local news outlets have begun coverage, predictably deadnaming and misgendering her, as well as universally avoiding the phrase ‘Hate Crime’…”
“Brunell, has attempted to exploit the age-old transmisogynistic specter of sexual aggressiveness to wriggle out of taking responsibility for his brutal actions…. His claims fit the narrative creeping across our state, our nation, and our world, and as such will be a suitable excuse in the eyes of many.”
Vermont’s Democratic Governor, Phil Scott, cited the sharp rise in anti-trans legislation in relation to violence directed at trans people:
“Exploiting fear and targeting divisive rhetoric at people who are just trying to be who they are is hateful and can lead to violence,” he said. “To Vermonters in the LGBTQA+ community, I want you to know we stand with you and support you but know we have more work to do.”
The Pride Center of Vermont wrote on Facebook: “Fern brought such joy to so many who were honored to know them and we grieve the loss of their light in this world.”
Brunell appeared in court on Wednesday (13 April) where he was charged with second-degree murder. He did not offer a plea.
Fern Feather was kind and free-spirited. A trans woman, Fern was remembered for making others feel valued. She was killed in Morristown, Vermont on April 12.
There’ve been at least 12 violent killings of trans or gender non-conforming people in 2022. https://t.co/7X935hNQc6
— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) April 15, 2022
A trans person was murdered yesterday in Vermont, which, is described as a top state for trans safety. Just a reminder to the cis that we're safe nowhere in the US.#transsafety #fernfeather https://t.co/gtBa7PcJLx
— Vortex Sophia 🏳️⚧️ (@DrSophiaNoire) April 15, 2022
Our community mourns the death of 29 yr old #FernFeather. Fern was stabbed to death Apr 12th in Morristown, VT. Local reports deadnamed and misgendered her. She had started her transition in March. You were loved and your life mattered. We #SayYourName.
— Tasha Headrick NYC 🏳️⚧️🇺🇦 (@TashaHeadrick) April 14, 2022