On April 9, 2017, trans woman Kenne McFadden’s body was found floating in the San Antonio River. Mark Daniel Lewis admitted to the crime, and despite being initially charged with manslaughter, a judge just ruled that he won’t be tried for her murder.
In Lewis’ confession, he says that he kissed McFadden the night she died. He claims she “grabbed his buttocks,” and Lewis responded by pushing her into the river. He said “I didn’t mean to push [her] into the river; I meant to push [her] away.” (Lewis also misgendered McFadden in his testimony.)
Prosecutors understandably argued that Lewis’ response was unreasonable, particularly as Lewis knew McFadden was intoxicated and did nothing to help. However, State District Judge Joey Contreras disagreed. While Judge Contreras called McFadden’s death a “terrible tragedy,” Lewis didn’t partake in “criminal conduct.” Due to double jeopardy laws, Lewis can not be tried again for McFadden’s death.
Much of the blame is being laid at the prosecution’s feet for a poor strategy. Instead of trying the manslaughter charge on its own, they first tried to charge Lewis with violating his probation by committing manslaughter. The prosecution believed this was the way to go because of the lower burden of proof. The prosecution said the plan was to get Lewis found guilty for violating his probation, and when that happened, try him specifically for manslaughter.
Lewis was on probation for failing to register as a sex offender. When he was a juvenile, he was convicted of prohibited sexual conduct against a 13-year-old girl.
Legal experts were surprised by the prosecution’s strategy. Inger Chandler, a Houston-area attorney told the San Antonio Express-News that while it’s not unusual to prove a new law violation during a probation hearing, this case was different. A probation violation carries a much lighter sentence — a maximum of two years in state jail — than manslaughter, which has a sentence of two to 20 years in state prison.
Philip Hilder, a former federal prosecutor, also agrees the prosecution “botched” the case. Speaking to the Express-News, he said they shouldn’t have combined the two cases. By presenting the entirety of the evidence for the manslaughter case, they “made the proceedings murky.” He said, “They could have accomplished their goal by succinctly presenting the evidence that was relevant to the revocation rather than a shotgun approach. And now they’re suffering the consequences for trying to throw in too much that was not necessary.”