Ky Peterson, a transgender man incarcerated in a central Georgia prison for killing his rapist in self-defense, was denied parole and will remain in prison for at least four more years.
“Needless to say in the moment we are kind of in shock. Today we are grieving,” Pinky Shear, Peterson’s partner and advocate, said in an emotional video announcement on Tuesday. (Watch below)
The decision from the State Board of Pardons & Paroles came Jan. 20, a day after Peterson's birthday though he didn't learn of the decision until told later by his attorneys. Peterson and his supporters have been awaiting a decision since he became eligible for parole on Oct. 30.
“And so today we are grieving. Yesterday we were grieving. Tomorrow we are fighting. Tomorrow we will continue to push for and try to come up with a plan. We are still seeking legal assistance in our pursuit of a suit against the state of Georgia,” Shear said.
Peterson is serving a 20-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter after killing the man that was raping him and yelling homophobic slurs in 2011 in an Americus trailer park. His case has been rife with problems, including a public defender that failed to let Peterson know he could plead self-defense and a judge that sentenced him to twice the maximum penalty for involuntary manslaughter.
The state board ruled Jan. 20 that the earliest Peterson could be paroled is July 2021 – 10 years after his arrest. In Georgia, involuntary manslaughter carries a 10-year maximum sentence.
“That’s the thing that really bothers me is how racist the entire system is. Fundamentally from the ground up. From the police straight on up to the judges, straight on up to the prison system," Shear told Project Q Atlanta in December.
Peterson, both black and transgender, has found few people in the criminal justice system willing to believe that he was raped, despite the rape test kit showing he was. In 2011, the nurse who examined him doubted Peterson's story, telling him, “You don't seem like a rape victim to me. Something else has to be going on.”
Since being imprisoned, Peterson, his family and supporters have been fighting for his basic rights and access to transition related care.
In 2015, Ashley Diamond, a trans woman being held in a men’s prison, was released early after she sued the Georgia Department of Corrections over her mistreatment. She alleged the she was repeatedly raped, denied medical treatments to the hormones she had been taking for 17 years, and otherwise abused while in prison. The mistreatment caused her to suffer dysphoria and depression, and become suicidal.
Diamond was released last year just days after the Southern Poverty Law Center filed additional documents in lawsuit that included sworn statements from other trans inmates alleging that they were also denied trans-related medical care.
Peterson, in a statement provided to Shear, said he will continue to fight for his release.
“I had expected to be denied, but was not expecting the parole date to be so far from now. It is clear to me that I have a purpose here. While my loved ones and supporters will continue to fight for my freedom from the outside, I will continue to fight for the medical care and treatment of trans inmates from the inside,” Peterson wrote.
“I see this as an opportunity to set a precedent with the Georgia Department of Corrections’ trans medical care and treatment,” he added.
Peterson, along with advocates at Trans(forming) and the Solutions Not Punishment Coalition, are asking supporters to sign a petition demanding his release and to get involved in the Free Ky Project. Peterson and his supporters are also working with Survived & Punished, which advocates for the release of people who are incarcerated after surviving sexual or domestic violence.
“I will be concentrating all my efforts and work in continuing to help support Ky and fighting doubly hard to have him released. We will do whatever it takes,” Shear said.
Steve Hayes, communications director for the State Board of Pardons & Paroles, confirmed Peterson's tentative release date of July 2021. But he added that date could be moved up if Peterson earns Performance Incentive Credit points for taking part in education programs and work details.
“PIC points are earned by the inmate, awarded by Corrections, and granted (or denied) by the board," Hayes said in an email statement.