The sounds of protesters set up near the parking lot outside could be heard inside the courtroom at the District Court of Maryland for Harford County.
“No justice, no peace,” chanted about a half dozen advocates with Baltimore Safe Haven, a nonprofit organization that provides social services and housing for LGBTQ people. Their voices sounded muffled from within the courtroom yet were filled with anger.
“Not one more,” they continued. “Say her name.”
Inside the building, though, there was harrowing silence among those who knew Meghan Lewis, a trans woman who was shot dead in December. About 15 people waited together for the routine preliminary hearing for Brian Delen, though many of them did not know each other. They knew Lewis from different walks of life — some were not from Harford County but knew her from social media, bonded by fandom for the Grateful Dead. Others were her neighbors or met her in a dog park.
Delen, who was arrested and charged in December in Lewis’ death, was released without bail on second-degree murder and first-degree assault charges. Within a minute of presiding in court Thursday, Judge Kerwin Miller waived the preliminary hearing.
Court documents say Delen, who was delivering food that night, told police that Lewis thought he was misgendering her when he asked: “Are you waiting for food delivery, sir?”
Delen told the police he drove away and Lewis walked up to him in the parking lot of her condominium building. The dispute escalated, and Delen got out of his car and fired at Lewis, hitting her in the left abdomen. She was taken to a nearby hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Before the hearing, many of Lewis’ close friends told The Banner what Delen says happened was out of character. Tina Castle, who lives in Massachusetts, said Lewis had dealt with transphobic violence. She lost friends after coming out and said she had been “spit on” and “physically attacked by people.” Castle doesn’t think Lewis would have engaged with Delen.
In a text message from February, Lewis said to McKenzie Lannon that she “missed just freely walking without fear.” She lost that sense of safety “forever,” the text message read.
“That’s what she always said: ‘If you’re not safe, if you get misgendered, just run. We can change the world other ways,’” said Zosia Zaks, who has known Lewis for years.
The judge’s routine decision sparked turmoil in the room, beginning from when Delen walked out of the hearing.
“Shame on you, Harford County,” said Iya Dammons, the executive director of Baltimore Safe Haven.
Some of the advocates, Safe Haven’s “freedom fighters,” as Dammons put it, followed Delen and his public defenders out of the room. They chanted at him, determined to be heard.
Chelsea Pasternak and her fellow “deadheads” — or, as this particular group of fans calls themselves, Grateful Sisters — walked out of the building, pulling their phones. They were all “armchair lawyers” now, one of them joked, trying to make sense of what happened.
“We wanted the judge to see that her community is very affected, that she’s very loved,” Pasternak said. “We’re not just gonna let whatever is happening happen quietly.”
Upon knowing that Delen had walked out of the courtroom, those who were still protesting in the front of the building ran to the side entrance, waving the trans pride flag and carrying posters that read “Not one more.” One person left their shoes behind.
An hour after the judge’s decision, those who had been waiting for Delen to leave the court began to walk back to their cars. They had already let the judge know that they were “the sparkles that are still sparkling,” Dammons said, even when Lewis is no longer with them.
But, she continued, “I really wanted to be able to stand face to face with someone who murdered my friend …”
This story has been updated to correct a sentence that misidentified the deceased.