Probe of woman's death continues
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Oakland police are continuing to investigate the death of a transgender woman who was shot in the city's downtown as family and friends mourn.
Brandy Martell, 37, was shot as she sat in her car with friends early Sunday morning, April 29.
Oakland police Officer B. Baker, who is working the case, said Wednesday morning, May 9 that no arrests had been made and no suspects had been identified.
The motive for Martell's murder remains unclear, but a woman who was sitting next to Martell when the shooting started told the Bay Area Reporter this week that she suspects the reasons are hate crime and robbery.
Either way, Felisha Johnson, who had known Martell since 1995, said she wants her friend's killer brought to justice "immediately."
"They entered our world, and they took my sister's life," said Johnson, 32.
Johnson said that she, Martell, who lived in Hayward, and two others were socializing in Martell's car when two men approached around 4 a.m. One spoke with Johnson, while the other talked to Martell.
The men told them their names and where they were from. She said the men told them they were Ethiopian, but she couldn't remember their names.
They also told Martell and Johnson to come home with them, she said.
She said the men "kept trying to touch us" and put their hands down their tops. Johnson said she swatted away the hand of the man at her window.
Johnson said she'd been drinking, and "I was pretty wasted, but it wasn't like I was so drunk I didn't know what was going on." The conversation lasted about 10 minutes.
At one point, she said, she told Martell, "I don't think they know what's going on," referring to their gender identity. She said that Martell said, "Let them know," and Johnson said she replied, "'You let them know.'"
"We kind of giggled about it," she said. "Basically, they figured it out," and she didn't directly tell the men they were transgender.
The men's reaction was "Nah, nah, I'm good," and they left without any argument or saying anything anti-gay or anti-trans, said Johnson.
About half an hour after the men left, the one who'd been talking to Martell returned.
"I looked over and there was a gun in the car," said Johnson. The man demanded money, and Johnson tried to hand him her purse, but he rejected it.
"I kept my eyes on the gun," said Johnson. "I don't remember Brandy saying anything. He just shot."
Johnson said she "took off running" down the street, screaming for others to call the police as the shots continued.
Martell drove off and made it about 50 feet to the corner of Franklin and 13th streets, said Johnson, but when she returned to the car, Martell wasn't moving.
Oakland Police Department spokeswoman Lea Rubio said last week that police responded to the scene at 5:16 a.m. Martell was pronounced dead at the location.
Asked about the possible motive, Johnson said, "I think it was robbery and a hate crime, because all of a sudden, he wanted to come back after everything had been going on all fine and dandy."
She indicated that she thinks if the motive had just been robbery, he wouldn't have taken the extreme actions that he did.
"Everything you needed was right there, if you would have just taken that car," she said.
(Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland)
Martell's family planned her funeral for Wednesday, May 9 at C.P. Bannon Mortuary in Oakland. Tiffany Woods, a transgender advocate who'd worked with Martell, shared information this week that the family planned to bury Martell as a man.
The service was packed with mourners. An open casket showed Martell dressed in a dark men's suit, although the casket was closed before the service itself started.
An alternate memorial was set for Wednesday at the site where Martell was killed, said Woods, who added that Martell's "favorite things" would be there.
"This service is for people who don't want to attend her actual funeral, for whatever reason," the announcement stated.
Erica Cleveland, who knew Marvell for more than 20 years, was at the memorial at 13th and Franklin Wednesday.
Cleveland chose the memorial over the funeral because Martell's family had "disrespected" what she'd "fought so hard for all her life," including her name, even though "they respected it while she was alive." Cleveland said she didn't know Martell's family.
A cluster of flowers, heart-shaped balloons, and posters with Martell's image were attached to a lamppost at the corner.
Johnson said that she never saw Martell as male except for pictures.
"I never met this person they're burying her as," said Johnson, referring to her family's decision. "I personally don't agree with what they're doing, but how can I tell a grieving family how to deal with their child ... and how they want to put her to rest? ... That would be totally disrespectful and inappropriate."
Johnson said Martell "had a really close bond with her mom and her dad. I know that for a fact. She was basically like 'Daddy's girl.'"
Betty Massey, Martell's mother, said last week that Martell hadn't legally changed her name, and she wanted police to refer to Martell as Milton Massey Jr. She declined to answer further questions.
Talishia Massey, 29, Martell's sister, said Martell's gender identity didn't keep her parents from loving her.
Talishia Massey, who identifies as lesbian, said that Martell had legally changed her name at least 15 years ago. She used male pronouns when discussing Martell.
"I call him 'Turkey,'" said Massey, referring to Martell's nickname. "That was my brother. That's how I grew up with him."
Last week, the authorities identified Martell as Milton Massey Jr. and media outlets, including the Bay Area Reporter , reported that fact. Sean Troiano, an Alameda County coroner's office technician, said that the identification was made through fingerprints.
Johnson also said that Martell legally changed her name about 16 years ago, and she lived in Hayward at the time. She said Martell's driver's license matched her female gender identity.
Mike Marando, spokesman for the California Department of Motor Vehicles, said the agency's records show a Brandy Martell with the same birthdate as the homicide victim.
A search of Alameda County Superior Court records did not reveal that Martell had legally changed her name. The search covered records back to 1985.
Referring to how Martell's family has been doing since the killing, Talishia Massey, who called Martell "an uplifting person," said, "Everybody has their moments where they break down, but for the most part everybody is holding up. You accept the will of God."
Anyone with information in the case is asked to call the homicide unit at (510) 238-3821 or the dispatch office at (510) 777-3333.