Crime

Sailor expected to plead in transgender nurse’s death. Family calls it act of ‘pure hatred.’

Former Navy seaman Dwanya Porche Hickerson is expected to enter a plea Thursday in the robbery and brutal stabbing death of a transgender nurse from Hattiesburg.

Hickerson’s hearing is set at 1 p.m. before Judge Robert Krebs.

A grand jury indicted Hickerson, 21, on a charge of capital murder in the July 23, 2016, killing of Dee Whigham, a 25-year-old nurse at Forrest General Hospital.

Whigham’s autopsy showed her throat was slashed three times along with 116 other stab wounds to her face and body.

A savage killing

Whigham came to the Coast with friends who were attending a rodeo in Biloxi. Her friends went to the rodeo but Whigham stayed behind at a St. Martin hotel where she and friends were staying, her mother Vickie Blackney Whigham said Wednesday.

Whigham told friends she planned to go to the beach while they were gone to the rodeo, her mother said.

When the friends returned to the St. Martin hotel room, they found Whigham covered in blood and lying face-down near the door inside their motel room, her mother said.

Vickie Whigham reached out to her family and friends on Facebook on Tuesday and Wednesday to encourage them to attend the 1 p.m. hearing with her and her daughter. She also reached out to the Sun Herald.

“How could a person take someone’s life like that,” the emotional mother said Wednesday. “How can you stab someone that many times and bathe the blood off that fast unless you meant to do this. That is an act of pure hatred. He planned this. I believe he knew (her) but I don’t think he’s going to admit that.”

“I forgave him”

Vickie Whigham said she accepted Dee as she was though she didn’t agree with her lifestyle. She said Dee Whigham came out as gay when she was 14 years old but didn’t fully come out as a transgender woman until a few years later.

“He (the killer) didn’t give my (child) a chance,” she said. “I forgave him but sometimes I wonder in my mind if I’m hoping he gets to prison and somebody rapes and beats him really bad. I pray that he has found God. There is nothing I can say that is going to bring Dee back.”

She described her child as a “loving person” who was “always doing things to help her friends and family.”

‘I believe he knew Dee’

Jackson County deputies investigated the murder.

Investigators believe Hickerson had been been communicating with Whigham through online dating sites and chat rooms before she was killed.

Whigham’s cellphone was stolen and burned after her killing. Her purse was also taken, according to authorities.

In the weeks leading up Whigham’s visit to the Coast, her mother said she had been talking on the phone a lot to man she believed to be Hickerson.

Dee Whigham, she said, would have never just met up with a man unless he knew she was a transgender woman.

“Dee wouldn’t just pick somebody up,” she said. “(She) would get to know them. I don’t think he’ll admit it, but I believe he knew about Dee.”

A possible connection

In a court filing, Assistant District Attorney Cherie Wade asked and was granted a search warrant to retrieve cellphone records from Whigham’s iCloud account as well as any emails that would show any communication with Hickerson because her cellphone had been destroyed.

In a court filing to obtain the search warrant for Whigham’s cellphone and internet activity, Wade also acknowledged Whigham “had an iPhone which was burned” by Hickerson after the killing.

Wade argued prosecutors and investigators needed to obtain the information from Whigham’s iCloud account as well as any emails from her Yahoo and Google accounts and her Kik Interactive online messaging system to determine whether the two had any prior communications.

In addition, Jackson County sheriff’s Investigator Leo Allen said in a sworn affidavit that deputies learned Whigham and Hickerson both used online dating apps and the Kik messaging system, as well as other internet apps and emails, to communicate and meet with people.

The killing

Hotel surveillance recorded images of Hickerson and Whigham walking together in a hallway and going into a Whigham’s hotel room about 8:30 p.m. About 20 minutes later, the video shows Hickerson coming out of the room with his shirt off, hanging around his neck.

Whigham’s friends found her a short time later and called police.

Investigators said the shower in her room was still running and had blood in it. They later publicized the hotel video on social media to try to identify Hickerson.

Someone from Keesler Air Force Base, where Hickerson was studying to be a weather forecaster, called to identify him after seeing the video.

Other evidence

Other evidence collected in the case included additional video of a man, believed to be Hickerson, coming out of the barracks at Keesler and throwing a bag into a Dumpster. The bag contained bloody clothes, investigators said.

In addition, investigators found witnesses who gave Hickerson a ride back to Keesler after the slaying. Other witnesses said they gave Hickerson a ride to the beach near some fire pits where investigators found a fixed-blade knife and other burned items, all items believed to be used in the murder.

Since his arrest, Hickerson has remained jailed without bond.

Even with a possible guilty plea Thursday, Whigham’s mother said, “I’ll still have a hole in my heart that can’t be filled.”

Margaret Baker: 228-896-0538, @Margar45

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