Transgender Defense: 'Donna' Says 'Doug' Is the Spokane Serial Killer

Woman is on trial in Washington State for prostitute murders.

March 19, 2014, 3:05 PM

March 19, 2014 — -- A transgender woman accused of being a serial killer is blaming the 1990 murders of three prostitutes in Washington State on Douglas Perry, the person she identified as before her transition.

Donna Perry, 62, told police in 2012 in an affidavit filed in Spokane Superior Court that she had gender reassignment surgery in Thailand, and when a person transitions from male to female, "there's a great downturn in violence."

She also told police that she intentionally had the operation, which she underwent in 2000, "as a permanent way to control violence."

Perry is being held on $1 million bond in a Spokane County jail and declined to make a court appearance on murder charges this week, according to ABC affiliate KTLY, which first reported the story.

In a case that has been cold for more than two decades, the affidavit filed Jan. 14 says Perry was linked through DNA evidence to the killings of Yolanda Sapp, Kathleen Brisbois and Nickie Lowe, whom police say were prostitutes.

Police allege that Perry shot the women and left their naked bodies on the banks of the Spokane River. She was arrested earlier this year and served jail time for federal weapons charges. Police say they matched Perry's fingerprints to the crime scenes, according to the affidavit.

The accused's reported defense that it was not Donna Perry but Douglas Perry who killed the women is headline-grabbing, but not necessarily a true reflection of how transgender people view their nonconforming identity, according to mental health experts.

"For some people, it's a metaphor: 'I was a different person before I came out,'" said Dr. Jack Drescher, a New York City psychiatrist who sat on the work group on sexual and gender identity disorders contained in the DSM-5 -- the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

"It's a certain way that they use the metaphor when transitioning for those who were very unhappy before and now are happy," he said. "But it's different when a person makes a claim that somehow they have no linkage to the person they used to be –- that would be more of a disturbed presentation."

Having what is now called gender dysphoria in the DSM-5, does not necessarily mean that a person has impaired judgement, which is often a legal defense, according to Drescher.

"It's wrong to generalize from this person's life – it's not typical of the transgender experience," said Drescher, who does not know Perry and is not connected to the case.

When detectives interviewed Perry and asked why the murders had stopped, she replied, "Douglas didn't stop, Donna stopped it," according to the affidavit. Since then, Perry said she is "paranoid and emotional but won't hurt anybody."

"I'm not going to admit I killed anybody, I didn't. Donna has killed nobody," she told police. When pressed if "Doug did" the killings, Perry replied, "I don't know if Doug did or not, it was 20 years ago and I have no idea whether he did or did not," according to the affidavit.

In 1998, Perry served 18 months in an Oregon prison. The affidavit says that when Washington detectives interviewed a cell mate, she told them that Perry allegedly confessed to killing nine prostitutes "because she couldn't breed and the women had the ability to have children and they were wasting it being 'pond scum.'"

Perry also reportedly told the cellmate she was a "sociopath," according to the affidavit.A spokesman in the Spokane County Superior Court Clerk's Office told that Perry does not yet have a lawyer. Deputy Prosecutor Sharon Hedlund did not return calls.

As for Perry' claim that sex surgery stems violence, experts say there is no evidence that accompanying hormone therapy plays a role in diminishing aggression.

Estrogen is part of the hormone protocol recommended by the standards of care for gender reassignment surgery set by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

Older studies have linked the male hormone testosterone to enhanced aggression, but a more recent Penn State University study says popular misconceptions may be inaccurate.

Chemical castration, using Depo Provera to reduce libido and sexual activity, has been controversially used among sex offenders.

Jack Halberstam, who is transgender and a professor of American and gender studies at University of Southern California, said that Perry's publicized statements are "very sketchy and a desperate defense ploy."

"It harkens back to the discourse on multiple personalities a decade ago –- that another personality has taken over my body space," he said. "It's an idea that we are simply competing personalities or selves. If you talk about transgenderism or psychopathology, nobody really believes that stuff. That research is now pretty much flawed."

Halberstam said Perry had a "weak defense."

"Even if we as a person are less aggressive once we resolved a gender disorder, it does not absolve the responsibility of killing three women," he said. "As a legal defense, putting away the science, it's absolute nonsense."

He is also critical of the way in which Perry's case reinforces negative stereotypes about those who are transgender.

"The science is very shaky and the rational that why [Doug] may have committed the murders was that he envied the maternal function of the female body, seems to seal his fate. Making being transgender into a motivating factor for murder is almost like the horror film, 'Dressed to Kill.' It feeds directly into the horror stories about gender identity disorder."

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, agreed.

"This doesn't seem like a transgender issue to me," she said. "The media loves this kind of case. If this were a minister, it wouldn't be framed that way. This is not about that part of [Perry's] identity, it's about being a murderer."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events