Prosecutors seek death penalty in transgender teen’s killing

HOUSTON, Mo. (AP) — Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty for one of the suspects in the slaying of a transgender teenager whose eyes were gouged out and her body set on fire in southwest Missouri, court records show.

A notice requesting the sentence for Andrew Vrba, 18, was filed Monday. Vrba is charged with first-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Ally Steinfeld. Vrba’s attorney, Michael Barrett, who also is director of the state public defender office, declined to comment ahead of a Tuesday afternoon hearing at which a trial date will be scheduled.

Investigators say Steinfeld was stabbed several times, including in the genitals. Authorities aren’t saying what led to the killing, but Texas County Sheriff James Sigman and prosecutor Parke Stevens Jr. have insisted the crime was not motivated by Steinfeld’s gender identity.

One female suspect, Isis Schauer, 18, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for second-degree murder, while another, Briana Calderas, 24, awaits a first-degree murder trial. A fourth person, James Grigsby, has pleaded not guilty to abandonment of a corpse and tampering with evidence.

Steinfeld’s remains were found in September in the town of Cabool, near the mobile home of Calderas, with whom Steinfeld was living. Steinfeld had been missing for weeks. Cabool is a rural area about 70 miles (115 kilometers) east of Springfield.

Vrba told investigators he initially tried to poison Steinfeld, then described how he stabbed Steinfeld in the living room of Calderas’ mobile home, Deputy Rowdy Douglas wrote in a probable cause statement. The female suspects said Vrba bragged to them about how he gouged Steinfeld’s eyes and stabbed Steinfeld in the genitals, Douglas wrote.

Authorities say the three suspects burned Steinfeld’s body, placed some of the bones into a garbage bag and put the bag in the chicken coop. Calderas admitted helping burn the body and led authorities to the knife used in the killing, Douglas wrote.

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