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Closing arguments and verdicts in the case of The People v. Dana Rivers
November 16, 2022
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I attended the closing arguments in the trial of Dana Rivers (a.k.a., David Warfield) on Monday, November 14 (I summarize the case and provide case updates here).* The jury started deliberating on the morning of Tuesday November 15 and the verdict came down just before 4:00 p.m. that day - guilty on all counts: Murder in the first degree in the killings of Charlotte Reed, Patricia Wright, and Benny Wright and arson, with all special circumstances (particularly vulnerable victims, use of deadly weapons, etc.) being found to be true.
*Thank you to the very generous donor who covered my travel expenses for this purpose.
The jury has been ordered to return to court on December 5, and as far as I understand, the purpose of that is to try the matter of Rivers’s insanity claim. I don’t know whether that’s true or not, because it has been very difficult to get information from the court. That is my understanding based on what I have heard.
Listening to the arguments was, in a word, bizarre. Going in, I was prepared for everyone in the courtroom to refer to Rivers as “she” and “her,” despite the fact that Rivers is a man. So I wasn’t surprised by that at all. The only odd part about that is that it had come out through DNA evidence that Rivers is male, so the jurors all knew that everyone was referring to a man using she/her pronouns.
(Side note: had it not come out that Rivers is male, it’s hard to say whether or not it would have been obvious to the jury that he is. He was sitting in a wheelchair; wearing a women’s sweater, glasses, and a mask; and has long hair. It was really hard to get a good look at him. It’s obvious to me because I know that he is male, but it’s unclear to me whether this would also be obvious to members of the jury. In any event, once it came out that he is male, they knew.)
This is no small thing. I am aware that our society has come under the thrall of “preferred pronouns.” For some people, requests to use “preferred pronouns” relate to having a “trans” or a “nonbinary” identity. For others, it is a matter of politeness. Still others simply seem content to go along with this new social practice. Regardless of the intention, though, use of sexed pronouns to refer to a member of the opposite sex (or use of “they/them” to refer to an individual) causes problems that many of us probably haven’t considered.
In this outstanding 2019 piece “Pronouns are Rohypnol,” U.K. feminist Barra Kerr (a pseudonym) explains that
Forcing our brains to ignore the evidence of our eyes, to ignore a conflict between what we see and know to be true, and what we are expected to say, affects us.
Incongruent pronouns also make your brain work much harder; not just when you are using them, but when you are receiving them as information. You are working constantly to keep that story straight in your head. Male or female? Which one, again? Concentrate harder. Ignore your instincts, ignore your reaction.
According to her, “[preferred pronouns] change our perception, lower our defences, make us react differently, alter the reality in front of us.”
They’re meant to. They numb us.
They confuse us. They remove our instinctive safety responses.
For these reasons and others, evolutionary biologist Colin Wright urges people to simply avoid pronoun rituals entirely. He states:
Coercing people into publicly stating their pronouns in the name of “inclusion” is a Trojan horse that empowers gender ideology and expands its reach. It is the thin end of the gender activists’ wedge designed to normalize their worldview. Participating in pronoun rituals makes you complicit in gender ideology’s regressive belief system, thereby legitimizing it. Far from an innocuous act signaling support for inclusion, it serves as an implicit endorsement of gender ideology and all of its radical tenets.
The use of wrong-sex pronouns in referring to Rivers had an effect on everyone in that courtroom, including the judge, the lawyers, the jurors, and everyone watching (and, I guess, Rivers himself). While I was prepared for it, I still found it to be jarring. And I would be remiss if I did not mention the use of pronouns here, because it’s part of a larger picture: sitting in that courtroom for an entire day, I felt like I was participating in one of society’s most impressive experiments in gaslighting.
This is how I summarized the basics of the case on my website:
Dana Rivers was born David Warfield. In 1999, he claimed that he was a woman and underwent surgery to persuade others that he was, in fact, a woman. At the time, he was a high school teacher. He openly discussed his fetish with his teenage students and was subsequently fired. He sued, and the case settled.
Just after midnight on November 11, 2016, police received reports about gunshots being fired at a home on Dunbar Drive, in Oakland, California. When they responded, they found Rivers drenched in blood and running from the doorway of the house. He was in possession of knives, ammunition, and metal knuckles. The house was on fire. Inside the house, the police found two women whose bodies were riddled with bullets and stab wounds. They also found a young man laid out in front of the house who had been shot to death. Rivers has been charged with numerous serious and violent offenses, including murder and arson.
The victims: Patricia Wright and Charlotte Reed, a married lesbian couple, and Toto Diambu (known as Benny Diambu-Wright), their 19-year-old son.
Previously, Rivers had been active in “Camp Trans,” a campaign against the rights of lesbians to hold the women-only annual festival called “Michfest” on private land (the last official Michfest occurred in 2015). Patricia and Charlotte were regular attendees at Michfest.
To the best of my knowledge, all of that is true.
The state’s theory appeared to be that Rivers murdered Charlotte Reed after Charlotte left a motorcycle club called “The Deviants.” The state argued that Reed and Rivers met at a group for veterans (both had served in the military), that Reed later joined The Deviants at Rivers’s invitation, that Reed later left the The Deviants for reasons unknown, and that Rivers killed her in his role as the “enforcer” of The Deviants. The reason that he killed her, the state argued, was that no one was ever allowed to leave The Deviants - that it was membership for life, in the same manner as the Hell’s Angels.
The state’s theory as to why Rivers killed Patricia and Benny was that he needed to eliminate any eye-witnesses to the murder of Charlotte, his primary target.
All of that may very well be true. I have no idea. But I do know this: to sit through both sides’ closing arguments and hear no mention of the tension between Michfest and Camp Trans was just bizarre. If I had to speculate, I would guess that the defense moved before the trial to have any evidence about Michfest and Camp Trans excluded from the trial. That’s what I would have done if I had been Rivers’s defense attorney. If the state thought that evidence related to Michfest and Camp Trans was irrelevant to its theory of the case, it might not have objected.
But is it really just a coincidence that Charlotte and Patricia were a lesbian couple active in Michfest, and that Rivers was active in efforts to get Michfest shut down? Is it just a coincidence that these murders occurred less than one year after the last official Michfest event?
During closing arguments, the state did an outstanding job of describing the overwhelming physical and testimonial evidence of guilt of all three murders and arson. She used graphic language like “executed” and stated that Rivers had “sliced up” Charlotte Reed. This was a horrific crime.
If I understand correctly, Rivers first shot Benny to death and then went for Charlotte and Patricia while they were in bed sleeping, half-clothed. He shot and stabbed them both mercilessly. His treatment of Charlotte was particularly dreadful. He stabbed her a total of 44 times, after shooting her twice. The photos are very difficult to look at and I feel just awful for the family members who were in court watching and listening to the details of this vicious attack.
In California, here’s the gist of how the law breaks down when it comes to murder.
In order to prove murder in the second degree, the state has to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did an act that caused the death of another person with “malice aforethought” (this is fancy language from the 19th century that most states have removed from their homicide statutes but for whatever reason, California has held onto it). Malice can be either express or implied. Malice is express if the defendant had an unlawful intent to kill. Malice is implied if the defendant intentionally committed an act, the natural consequences of the act presented a danger to human life, the defendant knew the act was dangerous, and the defendant did it anyway. “Aforethought” is just a fancy word for “before.”
A murder can go from being a murder in the second degree to a murder in the first degree under several circumstances, two of them being (1) if there was premeditation and deliberation, and (2) if the defendant was lying in wait.
The state argued, and I tend to agree, that the evidence was clearly sufficient to show murder in the second degree. Most of the lawyer’s argument, therefore, was dedicated to demonstrating that it could prove murder in the first degree through both premeditation/deliberation and lying in wait. It then set about making its case and I think it did so quite convincingly, focusing primarily on the events of the evening in question. I don’t really think there can be any doubt that Rivers committed these murders, by way of either premeditation/deliberation or lying in wait, or both, making it first degree murder.
In other words, the state argued, convincingly, in my view, that it had sufficient evidence to prove murder in the first degree using physical evidence and testimony regarding the events of that evening alone.
But then, and this is where it all gets a bit weird, the state went on to ascribe a motive. In a criminal matter, the state is never required to prove motive, and the judge made that clear in his instructions to the jury. The motive that the state described was a very elaborate story about The Deviants, its president Sandra, its “enforcer” Rivers, and the Hell’s Angels. To be clear, the Hell’s Angels had nothing to do with this actual case. But the state used it as an analogy and argued that The Deviants attempted to “mimic” the Hell’s Angels and that enforcing lifelong membership in The Deviants was the primary motive for the murder of Charlotte Reed.
I will concede that it made a decent case that The Deviants were in fact attempting to mimic the Hell’s Angels. There is certainly a lot of evidence to support that theory. One example is Rivers’s many tattoos, including: 1% (allegedly a reference to the number of Hell’s Angels leadership who have criminal records), Hell’s Angels, Riding on the Wings of Angels, D-E-V-I-A-N-T-S, Deviants symbols across his chest, a gun, and DO NOT LIE TO ME MOTHER FUCKER. The state used evidence of these tattoos (among other things) to persuade the jury both that The Deviants wanted to mimic the Hell’s Angels and also that Rivers’s commitment to The Deviants was sufficiently unwavering that he was willing to murder his friend Charlotte and her family as a punishment for leaving the club and as a warning to others. The state made a reasonably good case for all of this.
The defense’s argument in response was that to paint The Deviants in the way the state painted it is ridiculous. Its argument was that The Deviants were just a small motorcycle club made up of middle aged lesbians and that the idea that any of its members or leaders, or Rivers himself, would savagely murder a former member and her family is utterly preposterous.
I don’t know. But I have questions.
It emerged during the trial that when Rivers was seen exiting the house, he was wearing a motorcycle helmet and vest, both of which belonged to Charlotte Reed. Why was he wearing her clothes?
What follows is a lot of speculation about what I think is going on here, and anyone could fairly criticize me by noting that I cannot prove any of it, because I can’t. But I think these things need to be said.
I have spoken with the prosecutor’s office a few times in the past year, and each prosecutor that I have spoken with has unreservedly used “she/her” pronouns to describe Rivers. I once asked someone in the office if Rivers is being housed in the female unit of the jail (I know that the jail classifies him as female, so I assume he is, but I have never been able to find out for certain). The prosecutor seemed surprised by the question and said that he had no idea. The state made no effort that I can discern to address any of the history related to Michfest and Camp Trans during the trial.
There is no doubt that Charlotte and Rivers had an on-and-off friendship, and that they had some amount of affection for each other. Some have speculated that Rivers was looking for a more romantic relationship with Charlotte, but I have seen no evidence of that.
Rivers is a man who so desperately wants to be a woman that he was willing to have his penis cut off. He went out of his way to try to shut down a women-only festival because it refused to include men (regardless of penis status).
What I think is far more likely than Rivers wanting to be with Charlotte is that he wanted to be her. And because he couldn’t be her, in his mind, neither could she. I think the state is right that his reason for killing Patricia and Benny was to remove eye-witnesses to his murder of Charlotte, and that Charlotte was his primary target. His murders of Patricia and Benny, while obviously disgusting and terrible, were far less brutal.
People have been asking me why I think the trial sped by so quickly, and my speculative answer is this: I think the parties and the judge agreed (tacitly or otherwise) to make it go by as quickly as possible before the story got out. They wanted to make it go away because they did not want a lot of light shed on this grisly murder that was perpetrated by a “trans woman” (i.e., a man). I have thought this for the past couple of weeks. Our society is simply not allowed to talk about “trans” in a way that paints anyone who “identifies as trans” in any kind of negative light, let alone as a savage murderer.
Now, after listening to the closing arguments, I think I was right, and I think something else too. I think that Rivers’s motive for killing Charlotte was that he didn’t think she ought to be allowed to exist if he could not be her. His brutal attacks on her body belie a level of savage hatred and narcissistic rage that far exceeds most murders, and that exceeded his murder of Patricia and Benny. He needed her to die, and part of his reasoning could have been that she had left the motorcycle club, as the state argued.
However, in today’s society, given the elevated status that “trans” carries, there is no way the state could present the argument that Rivers killed Charlotte because he couldn’t be her. For the state to do that would be to make plain what so many of us already know: “trans” is such a savage hatred of women and women’s bodies that it would prefer that we not exist. Charlotte Reed is proof of that, but for the state of California to say that out loud would be to say too much.
Rivers may very well have killed Charlotte, Patricia, and Benny in part because he was mad that Charlotte left The Deviants. But even if that’s true, I don’t think that’s all that’s going on here. I think the state of California knows it too, but it won’t say so out loud. To say so would be to suggest that not only did this man who wants to be a woman also want to be a particular woman - Charlotte Reed - but also that if he couldn’t be her, then she couldn’t be.
Of course I could be wrong about all of this. Maybe it happened for the exact reason that the state said it did. I do know a few things for certain: (1) the state acknowledged that it probably had enough evidence to convict Rivers of murder in the first degree based on the physical and testimonial evidence regarding the night in question alone; and (2) sitting in that courtroom, listening to everyone refer to Rivers as “she” and “her,” knowing that Rivers is a man and also knowing that the jury members knew that Rivers is a man, listening to an elaborate story about mimicking the Hell’s Angels and enforcing life-long membership in a motorcycle club, while no one said a word about that fact, or about Michfest, or about Camp Trans, was bizarre. As I said, I felt like I was participating in one of society’s most impressive experiments in gaslighting. When something is wrong, you just know it.
I do not, for now, intend to return to California for the December 5 proceedings, though that could change. In the meantime, I am glad that the jury delivered justice to Charlotte, Patricia, and Benny, and I hope they are able to rest in peace.