The killer who strangled 17-year-old trans girl Nikki Kuhnhausen to death with a phone cord has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.
David Bogdanov, 27, was found guilty of second-degree and malicious harassment under Washington state’s hate crime statute back in August.
On Thursday (9 September) Clark County superior court judge David Gregerson handed down a sentence in the top range for both those crimes, saying he was “struck by the darkness in this case”.
Kuhnhausen was first reported missing in Vancouver by her family in June 2019, and her fractured skull was found in a woodland months later by a hiker in Oregon. Police arrested Bogdanov days later.
Prosecutors said he strangled Kuhnhausen with a mobile phone charger after learning she was transgender during a sexual encounter in the back of his van.
He reportedly told detectives that when he found out Kuhnhausen was trans he felt “shocked”, “uncomfortable”, and “really, really disturbed”.
After dumping her body down a hillside, the killer booked a one-way flight to Ukraine and called a friend to “get rid” of his car, according to trial testimony. He returned to the US about six weeks later.
Bogdanov claimed he had acted in “self-defence”, alleging the teen had reached for her gun during the scuffle. He said he wrapped the phone charger around her shoulders to pull her away from him, but it accidentally slipped up around her neck.
The case prompted state legislators to introduce and sign the Nikki Kuhnhausen Act, banning the so-called trans and gay “panic defence” altogether in 2020.
Gregerson noted at sentencing that there was an element of predation in the case because Kuhnhausen was 17 and Bogdanov was 25 at the time, and Bogdanov admitted to giving her alcohol.
The judge also noted testimony that Bogdanov had lied to police during the six months she was missing, prolonging the suffering and agony of the family and community.
Bogdanov’s attorneys continue to maintain he was acting in self-defence and said in court they would appeal the conviction and sentence.
Kuhnhausen’s mother, Lisa Woods, told The Columbian outside the courtroom that she feels “blessed” that the judge honoured Kuhnhausen’s life.
“We were all holding hands while we were awaiting the verdict to be read and that was really powerful,” Linden Walls, a member of the Justice for Nikki task force, said after the verdict, according to the paper.
“It felt like we were all together … and the sense of relief that came that we got justice for Nikki, that we were able to push this and the jury could see it and did the right thing. That felt really good.”
Nearly a hundred people attended a vigil for Kuhnhausen after the sentencing, including state representative Sharon Wylie and Vancouver mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle.
“At the end of the day justice would be Nikki here with us, so our work doesn’t end today, there are other protections queer and trans people need,” said Walls.
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