Former Navy sailor Dwanya Hickerson pleaded guilty Thursday to second degree murder and robbery in the savage stabbing death of a transgender nurse from Hattiesburg.
Hickerson entered the plea before Circuit Judge Robert Krebs.
Krebs accepted Jackson County District Attorney Tony Lawrence’s recommended sentence of 40 years in prison for murder plus eight years for robbery in the July 23, 2016, slaying of Dee Whigham.
Whigham was butchered to death, with the throat slashed three times in addition to 116 other stab wounds to her face and body according to a preliminary autopsy. However, an official autopsy later showed Whigham was stabbed a total of 190 times.
Hickerson, 23, entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors. Had he gone to trial on a capital murder charge, a jury could have sentenced him to death.
A native of New Orleans, Hickerson was studying to be a weather forecaster at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi at the time of the slaying.
Jackson County investigators tied him to the killing after they found video of Hickerwson and Whigham at a St. Martin hotel around 8:30 p.m. In a matter of 20 minutes, according to hotel surveillance cameras, Hickerson butchered Whigham.
Before he left, he jumped in the shower to wash the blood off his body.
Whigham’s purse and cellphone were stolen.
‘I lost it. I lost it.’
Hickerson said in court Thursday that he and Whigham had been chatting online for a couple of months but had never met.
He said they decided to meet while she was in Biloxi with friends.
Whigham, he said, picked him up at the gate at Keesler and the two went straight to the St. Martin hotel where Whigham was staying.
Once they got there, he said, they immediately had anal sex. He said he thought she preferred sex that way until afterward when she told him she was a transgender woman.
“I lost. I lost it,” he said, saying he really didn’t remember much afterward.
‘I think the plea is a slap in the face’
Before his sentencing, Hickerson turned to Whigham’s family, seated on front row in the courtroom.
“I apologize to the family,” he said. “I really, really wish it had turned out differently. If I could take it back, I would.”
Hickerson’s mother, Kimberly Markin, called the murder “a preventable tragedy that I’m so very sorry happened.”
“My son never set out that day to murder someone,” Markin said. “I am sorry any of this happened to both families.”
Both families, Markin said, had intelligent children with bright futures.
“I think the plea is a slap in the face,” Whigham’s mother, Vickie Blackney Whigham, said Thursday morning. “He gets a chance to see his family and I don’t have that chance with my child.”
Whigham’s sister, Denisha Whigham, addressed the court as well.
“I know bad things happened to good people,” Denisha Whigham said. “I don’t know what happened in that room because I wasn’t there and my (sibling) can’t tell me. I just wanted you to know you took away my only (sibling) and my daughter, his only niece, she was devastated.”
Assistant District Attorney Cherie Wade went over the facts of the case and also pointed out that both families lost children.
In one of Dee’s Facebook posts in August 2015, she shared a post about what she’d want after her death.
“Only thing I hope that people will remember of me when I’m no longer in this world is that I loved,” she wrote, before adding the hashtag, “#MyTruth.”