[This story previously aired on December 18, 2021.]
Prosecutors say, 17, vanished from Vancouver, Washington, in June 2019, just hours after meeting David Bogdanov, then 25, and exchanging messages on Snapchat.
Four months later in a meeting with police, Bogdanov told them the last time he had seen Kuhnhausen was when he asked her to get out of his car, after she told him she was transgender.
He told police he was “shocked to find that out. And just uncomfortable and really, really disturbed.” Bogdanov told police he had no idea where Kuhnhausen went after she left him.
“This is a narrative and a story that plays out … all the time,” says Devon Davis Williamson, a transgender activist and co-founder of the Justice for Nikki Task Force. “When trans people go missing, they’re usually found deceased.”
Six months after she disappeared, Kuhnhausen’s body was discovered by a hiker on Larch Mountain. Bogdanov was arrested after cell tower data placed his phone where Kuhnhausen’s body was found.
“Most of the time in our culture and our country, if a trans person is killed, there is not an arrest made,” Williamson says. “We think it’s right around 30% of trans people who are murdered … have someone arrested and fully prosecuted.”
At his trial, Bogdanov said he killed Kuhnhausen in self-defense when, he says, she reached for his gun. He testified that he panicked after realizing she was dead and dumped her body at Larch Mountain. He was found guilty of her murder and malicious harassment, a hate crime. He was sentenced to the maximum, 19-and-a-half years in prison.
Kuhnhausen’s mother and supporters from the Justice for Nikki Task Force worked with legislators in Washington to pass Nikki’s Law. It’s designed to prevent defendants charged with violent crimes from using sexual orientation or gender identity as an excuse for violence, the so-called “gay” or “trans panic defense.”
“I want her death to mean something to someone who may contemplate hurting another transgender person,” says Woods.
“SHE WAS ALWAYS NIKKI”
Lisa Woods will never forget the day her life changed forever. It was June 6, 2019. That’s when her daughter Nikki Kuhnhausen seemingly vanished. Woods says they talked daily before work.
Lisa Woods: I would call her every day and talk to her before my shift. … She stopped answering.
Immediately, her mother’s intuition kicked in. Woods had a bad feeling.
Lisa Woods: That first day I took her sweatshirt and I made it into a pillowcase. And I slept with her picture and my Bible.
Jamie Yuccas: Did you fear that something had happened?
Lisa Woods: I knew something had happened.
Woods filed a missing person’s report. At first, friend Arielle Fox wasn’t too concerned.
Arielle Fox: Lost her phone or something. Classic Nikki move.
Arielle knew all about Nikki’s moves, after all they’d been best friends since childhood.
Arielle Fox: She’s like … the lively friend that’s just … always high energy.
Arielle Fox: When I first met Nikki, she was still going by Nick. … But she was definitely still Nikki at heart.
Taylor Watts was a childhood friend as well.
Taylor Watts: We lived across the street from each other — I want to say third and fourth grade. … She stood out, you know. She was, like, cheerful. Was caring. She was just Nikki.
Becoming Nikki would be something of an evolution, but Woods says she and her large family always knew.
Lisa Woods: Very rarely did anybody call her Nikolas.
Nikki began life as Nikolas. But from a young age, Woods says Nikki had a strong sense of self.
Lisa Woods: There’s this one picture with a blonde wig on because the babysitter was a hairdresser and she snuck into her wigs.
Jamie Yuccas: So, she always knew who she was.
Lisa Woods: Uh-huh. Yeah. She broke her arm, and she had a pink cast. Her brothers were so mad that I let her pick a pink cast … I’m like, “she picked the color! It’s her broken arm.”
It was around sixth grade that Nikki made her gender identity public.
Lisa Woods: She decided that she was going to be Nikki all the time, not just at home … so she started dressing as herself.
Jamie Yuccas: As a woman, young woman?
Lisa Woods: As a young woman.
Woods says Nikki was widely accepted for who she was, especially among a certain “in” crowd.
Lisa Woods: The cheerleaders loved the way that she did her makeup and they wanted her to do their makeup, as well.
And she hoped that passion would one day turn into her dream job.
Lisa Woods: She wanted to be‘s hair and makeup artist.
Jamie Yuccas: That was her goal.
Lisa Woods: Mm-hmm.
Like most teens, Nikki loved to post online …
Lisa Woods: One day she came home and told me “Mom, I’m Facebook famous.”
… especially TikTok tributes to her idol, that other Nikki – Nicki Minaj.
Jamie Yuccas: How important do you think social media was to Nikki?
Lisa Woods: It was pretty important. … She loved taking selfies. She loved how many likes she got.
Woods says Nikki also liked fighting for the underdog.
Lisa Woods: I was called to the school … on many occasions because she had been suspended for hitting someone, but it was always a situation where she was defending someone else.
Nikki’s parents had divorced when she was young. Mother and daughter remained close as Nikki became a teen.
Lisa Woods: We would go get our nails done. … We would just drive around and go by the water and walk by the water.
But in high school, things would begin to change.
Arielle Fox: Nikki was going to school, but she wouldn’t make it all the time. And she’d be hard to get ahold of sometimes. She just wouldn’t wake up. She’d miss the bus.
Woods says she knew what was wrong. Nikki had started abusing drugs.
Lisa Woods: She said to me, “Mommy, I don’t think I can do my homework without being high.” And she was 16.
Friends say Nikki had started using methamphetamine.
Lisa Woods: That’s when I realized I was talking to an addict instead of my daughter.
Woods says there were many attempts to get Nikki into rehab to help her kick drugs for good, but nothing seemed to stick. For months, Nikki continued to struggle. Just how dangerous Nikki’s addiction was became apparent to Woods in 2018.
Lisa Woods: I got a call at work … from a detective.
Woods was told Nikki had been shot six times. Lisa raced to the hospital expecting the worst, but when she arrived …
Lisa Woods: Two of her girlfriends were there and she had her makeup all done. And she was sitting up laughing and they were doing selfies. And I looked at the detective, and I’m like, “I thought you said she was shot six times?”
It was a miracle says Woods. None of Nikki’s injuries were life-threatening.
Lisa Woods: It missed every major artery — in her neck, inner thigh, twice in the stomach, in her leg and the back of her calf.
Woods says Nikki told her she was shot during a dispute over drugs.
Jamie Yuccas: What do you think it says about Nikki, she was able to survive being shot six times?
Arielle Fox: She was a —
Taylor Watts: Champ.
Arielle Fox: — tough cookie.
Taylor Watts: Yeah. Very tough.
The man responsible for Nikki’s shooting was never apprehended. Woods hoped Nikki’s brush with death would serve as the inspiration for Nikki to turn her life around.
Jamie Yuccas: Did you think, “OK, you know, we’re on a different path now?”
Lisa Woods: I did. I mean, she knew it was a miracle. She knew.
Now, a year later, Nikki was missing. And Woods was hoping for another miracle.
THE SEARCH FOR NIKKI
In June 2019, Lisa Woods had just one goal: finding her daughter Nikki Kuhnhausen. All of Nikki’s social media accounts had gone silent.
Lisa Woods: We start making flyers.
Clark County prosecutor Kristen Arnaud.
Kristen Arnaud: I remember there were flyers everywhere. You couldn’t go to the grocery store without seeing that flyer.
News of Nikki’s disappearance in Vancouver, Washington, started to get more attention.
KOIN NEWS REPORT: She vanished more than two weeks ago and today was listed on the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children website.
Police talked to Nikki’s roommates and learned the last time they’d seen her was the day she vanished. Nikki was heading out the door to meet a man she’d met just hours before. But who was he? Clark County prosecutor Colin Hayes says her social media messages provided investigators with their first clue about who Nikki was seeing that night.
Colin Hayes: We have their Snapchat messages, so we know that he picked her up. It would have been somewhere 5 a.m.-ish or so.
“He” was 25-year-old David Bogdanov, who worked at his family-owned construction business. Their exchanges gave police their first glimpse of a timeline when he and Nikki met.
Kristen Arnaud: That was the last time she was seen alive by anyone else.
Kristen Arnaud: So, detectives are looking to talk to him within a couple of weeks of Nikki going missing.
The investigators tried his home.
Kristen Arnaud: They left, you know, cards. I think they also tried calling him, weren’t able to get a hold of him. They also sent Snapchat messages.
But Bogdanov did not reply. It seemed he had vanished — just like Nikki. Weeks grew into months without any leads.
Lisa Woods: I just knew that she was being held against her will or worse.
In late September, nearly four months after Nikki went missing, investigators finally heard from. He said he’d had phone problems and had just gotten their messages. Detectives asked him to come in for questioning, hoping he could help the investigation.
Colin Hayes: Until you talk to him and get the story, you don’t necessarily know if there might be — maybe there was someone else after that may have seen her.
So, on October 2, Bogdanov voluntarily met with Detective David Jensen of the Vancouver Police Department.
DET. DAVID JENSEN: David, are you aware that this is recording?
DAVID BOGDANOV: Yep.
In their recorded interview, Bogdanov told Jensen he was out drinking with his brothers on June 6, when he noticed a young woman.
It was on a block in Vancouver around 3 a.m. that David Bogdanov claims he first spotted Nikki alone. He says he walked over to her to check to see if she was OK. They started talking.
DAVID BOGDANOV: I offered her my jacket ’cause it was really cold outside.
Bogdanov also offered Nikki a drink.
DAVID BOGDANOV: I said do you want some vodka cause I got some if you want to have a drink, just to relax a little bit. And she said sure. Um, so. I just gave her the bottle.
DET. DAVID JENSEN: OK.
DAVID BOGDANOV: To take with her.
He also gave Nikki his contact information.
DAVID BOGDANOV: I did give her my Snapchat name, um, wanted to just exchange Snapchats, and she didn’t have a phone with her.
Bogdanov says he and Nikki then parted ways. A few hours later, Nikki sent him the address where she was staying with friends. Bogdanov drove over and picked her up.
Kristen Arnaud: He said he was going to help her find her phone because her phone was missing.
Later that morning, Bogdanov says he and Nikki found themselves alone in his car.
DAVID BOGDANOV: We were kinda just parked there in the driveway chit-chatting a little bit and — and then she told me that she’s not a she.
Bogdanov says that’s when Nikki told him she was transgender.
DAVID BOGDANOV: I was shocked to find that out. And just uncomfortable and really, really disturbed. And I asked her to please get out of the car, ’cause this is just really weird for me. … She just got out of the car and I took off.
Colin Hayes: He’s pretty vague about the details at that point and just says that was the last I saw of her.
While he was uncertain about some details of that night, Arnaud says Bogdanov was clear on one topic.
Kristen Arnaud: He went out of his way to make sure that they knew that he found that anyone who was part of the LGBTQI community, that he found them disgusting.
LGBTQI is an abbreviation to refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex people and communities.
DAVID BOGDANOV: For me it’s even disturbing when I’m around like a gay person or somebody bi or transsexual or something else. … I just got disgusted and I asked her to just get out.
Bogdanov offered up another piece of information, though he was never asked.
DAVID BOGDANOV: I wish I could help you more but I — I — I don’t know. I’m not the kind of person to — I’m not even a violent person at all, you know, nothing.
Bogdanov’s interview ended, and he left the police station.
Then, on December 7, 2019, six months after Nikki vanished, a man walking on nearby Larch Mountain found something that would change this case forever.
Det. Joe Swenson: Nobody goes about their day expecting that they’re going to find a body.
AN UNSETTLING DISCOVERY
It was nearly Christmas 2019 and Lisa Woods was aching for one miraculous gift – the safe return of her 17-year-old daughter, Nikki Kuhnhausen. She’d been missing for six unbearable months.
Lisa Woods: I prayed and prayed to bring my baby home, just bring my baby home to me.
But the unsettling discovery of a human skull on December 7, 2019 brought a swarm of local authorities to thickly wooded Larch Mountain, including Detective Joe Swenson from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.
Det. Joe Swenson: This was the trail that we actually entered into the area, and there were items found immediately inside the tree line.
Underneath the dense canopy of trees, the remnants of a human life had been scattered by animals down a steep ravine.
Det. Joe Swenson: There were a bunch of clothing items found down there … specifically, a green jacket, some underwear…
Det. Joe Swenson: There was a bandana.
Det. Joe Swenson: There were more bone … jewelry.
Jamie Yuccas: You also found a phone cord.
Det. Joe Swenson: Correct.
Jamie Yuccas: What’s the significance of that?
Det. Joe Swenson: When we found the phone charging cord, it … was tied in a knot, but it was in a circle, about four inches in diameter …
Tangled inside the knotted cord were artificial, multi-colored hair extensions.
After combing the rugged terrain for two days, detectives suspected someone had been murdered.
Det. Joe Swenson: We had a couple of missing persons’ cases that were kind of on our mind. … We started talking with more detectives in other agencies and learning, hey, this could be Nikki Kuhnhausen. And oh, come to find out she’s been missing for six months.
That’s when the Vancouver Police began another exhaustive search, says Swenson, comparing evidence photos taken on the mountain to Nikki’s personal photos found online looking for matches.
Det. Joe Swenson: And actually found a lot of images of her wearing the exact items that we had found up here. And so, it was a good confirmation initially to be able to say, yeah, we’re pretty sure this is Nikki.
About a week later, dental records verified the victim’s identity. It was Nikki Kuhnhausen, and it was murder. The medical examiner determined that Nikki had been strangled to death with that cellphone charger cord.
DET. DAVID JENSEN [to David Bogdanov]: Sorry for interruptin’ your commute this morning…
On December 17, 2019, Vancouver Police Detective David Jensen once again questioned the last known person to see Nikki alive: David Bogdanov.
DET. DAVID JENSEN: Sounded like you said, you were going to go to your job site.
DAVID BOGDANOV: I went to work.
DET. DAVID JENSEN: Yeah, you went to work.
Bogdanov stuck to his story: on the morning of June 6, after Nikki divulged she was transgender, he said he was shocked and disturbed:
DET. DAVID JENSEN: And that’s when you were like –
DAVID BOGDANOV: Basically kicked her out of the van…
DET. DAVID JENSEN: — I’m not into this…and kicked her out of the van, sent her on her way.
Bogdanov said he then drove straight to work in nearby Portland, Oregon.
DET. DAVID JENSEN: So, at the time that we talked, I didn’t have the benefit of all of your phone records, OK. But now there’s been some initial analysis done. So you left – your phone left … and then went east — out past Larch Mountain.
DAVID BOGDANOV: [Sits in stunned silence.]
DET. DAVID JENSEN: What happened on that trip?
His cell phone records suggested he had never driven to work that morning – but actually traveled in the opposite direction to Larch Mountain.
Det. David Jensen: That trip took about an hour round trip. … Up some logging roads. And then back again.
DAVID BOGDANOV: Think I wanna talk with a lawyer.
DET. DAVID JENSEN: OK, all right. So, you’re being arrested today for the murder of Nikki Kuhnhausen, whose remains have been discovered, who was strangled to death, OK. … Stand up for me please.
A few hours later, Detective David Jensen told Woods they had found Nikki.
Lisa Woods: And I fell to my knees and started screaming. And he came in and held me until I could gain my composure.
Lisa Woods: After I calmed down, Dave told me … ” I want to make sure he was charged and behind bars before I came and told you.”
Colin Hayes: Charges were murder in the second degree and malicious harassment, which is now called a hate crime in Washington.
Jamie Yuccas: What were your first reactions when you heard he had been arrested?
Devon Davis Williamson: I mean, truthfully, I was pretty surprised.
Clinical social worker Devon Davis Williamson and Linden Walls are transgender activists. They launched the “Justice for Nikki Task Force.”
Devon Davis Williamson: Most of the time in our culture and our country, if a trans person is killed, there is not an arrest made. We think it’s right around 30% of trans people who are murdered … have someone arrested and fully prosecuted.
Linden Walls: Having someone held accountable – I think only that can start the healing.
Linden Walls: And also bring attention to some of the things that the trans community is burdened with…
Part of their burden, says Walls, is living with fear – fear of being misunderstood, fear of being attacked. A recent UCLA Law School study concluded that transgender people are four times more likely than non-transgender people to become victims of violent crime – an explosion of hate the American Medical Association has called “an epidemic of violence.”
Lisa Woods: There was a vigil for her. … It was really overwhelming to see how much love that the trans community had coming together for my daughter.
Lisa Woods: And that’s where I met Devon. … She helped me find focus and purpose. She told me that she was going to make sure that nobody forgot Nikki’s name. And that it was going to make a difference.
With help from her new friends, Wood’s focus slowly shifted – from the horror of facing her daughter’s violent death to the hope of finding justice for her murder.
Linden Walls: Lisa was so driven to see justice and to do right for her child.
Devon Davis Williamson: And I think that’s given Lisa purpose and drive to stay alive.
LISA WOODS [at press conference]: She was a rainbow of light. She was so confident in who she was.
At a press conference just days after Bogdanov’s arrest, Lisa Woods became an activist.
LISA WOODS | KOIN NEWS REPORT 12/20/19 at vigil: I believe this man … I believe he killed her because she was a transgender (sic). I believe that with all my heart.
By August 2021, David Bogdanov’s day of reckoning was fast approaching. His murder trial was just two weeks away when prosecutors learned he had changed his story dramatically.
And he would take the stand to tell it himself.
DAVID BOGDANOV [on witness stand]: She’s jumping for my gun … and all I can think is…”Oh my God, I’m gonna get shot right now.”
BOGDANOV TAKES THE STAND
Vicki Matsuk, David Bogdanov’s niece, does not believe her uncle is capable of the murder he is accused of committing.
Vicki Matsuk: He would always get along with everyone. … Always there for everyone, no matter what.
Just days before the trial he reassured his sister, Lily.
Lily Bogdanov: I just remember him … telling us not to worry. … He was ready to just face whatever is coming.
And Woods was also ready.
Lisa Woods: I just prayed. I prayed for God to have his hands in it.
The court supplied a zoom feed as the trial got underway in August 2021.
Each day, family and friends rallied around Lisa Woods wearing pink masks to court.
Devon Davis Williamson: I think sitting in a room with the man that murdered your kid is hard, impossibly hard.
Opening statements began with a bold claim from the defense.
ERIN MCALEER: Our client did not strangle Nikki Kuhnhausen, causing her death, because she’s transgendered (sic). Nikki Kuhnhausen is now deceased because Mr. Bogdanov had to defend himself against her attacking him and possibly killing him.
But the prosecution argued that was not the case. They insisted Nikki was the victim of a hate crime.
COLIN HAYES: The defendant murdered Nikki after finding out she was transgender. The defendant murdered Nikki because his respect for human life was outweighed by his hatred for those who are gay and those who are transgender.
The prosecution laid out its case with experts testifying about those snapchat exchanges leading up to the murder and cell phone records placing Bogdanov’s phone at Larch Mountain just hours later. Jurors were shown evidence found at the scene: including that phone charging cord.
The defense called just one witness: Bogdanov himself.
Attorney Erin McAleer questioned Bogdanov about his religious upbringing and his views about LGBTQI people.
DAVID BOGDANOV: I was taught that it is a sin. And it’s not OK.
Lily Bogdanov: It’s not David’s lifestyle. … But if David comes across anybody, whoever it is, there is no hate.
Bogdanov told the jury what happened when he and Nikki were alone in his car.
ERIN MCALEER: And what was Nikki doing at that point?
DAVID BOGDANOV: She was smoking something out of a pipe.
Bogdanov said Nikki asked him to join her in the back seat. Before he did, he wedged the gun he carried between the driver’s seat and center console.
DAVID BOGDANOV: That transitioned to us making out.
ERIN MCALEER: Was there touching or anything else?
DAVID BOGDANOV: Yes.
ERIN MCALEER: OK. Who was touching who?
DAVID BOGDANOV: There was a little bit of both. At first um –
ERIN MCALEER: Where was she touching you?
DAVID BOGDANOV: [Crying] She started touching me, my private area.
Bogdanov said the sexual encounter escalated quickly, and that’s when he realized Nikki was transgender. Bogdanov’s testimony may be disturbing to some.
DAVID BOGDANOV: I was in shock. I just felt deceived. … I freak out and I push her back. … And I start freaking out saying, “you didn’t tell me, you’re a dude.” … And started yelling at her that she’s a disgusting piece of crap.
He said he told Nikki to get out of his car and he said she reacted with violence.
DAVID BOGDANOV: She kinda picked up her foot to try to just kick me with her foot from the passenger side. And … she just jumps up and goes towards the center console towards my gun.
DAVID BOGDANOV: I’m thinking, you know, I just was deceived by this person … and this person’s high on meth … and all I can think is, “oh my God, I’m going to get shot right now.”
Devon Davis Williamson: The suggestion that Nikki might have gone for the gun kind of defies logic.
Bogdanov said he tried to restrain Nikki by grabbing her jacket, but the material was too slippery to get a good grip. He claims in a desperate attempt to save himself, he reached for a cell phone charging cord.
DAVID BOGDANOV: I grab that cable and put it around her … and pull her back like that and hold her hold her from going forward, to the gun.
Bogdanov said he placed the phone cord around Nikki’s arms and chest during their struggle, but as he pulled, the cord slipped up to her neck.
DAVID BOGDANOV: The whole time she’s trying to fight me and just reaching back and scratching at my face, trying to gouge my eyes.
ERIN MCALEER: So, at some point does she stop struggling?
DAVID BOGDANOV: Yes.
Devon Williamson: The ligature used to kill Nikki was a phone cord that was tied to a space of 3.97 inches which ends up being about like this (demonstrates making a small circle with both hands). And if you can image the physical sensation of having your throat constricted to a space this size, and then have it triple-knotted.
After realizing Nikki was dead, Bogdanov said he panicked.
DAVID BOGDANOV: First thing I think is I need to call the police. And then I think that they’re not going to believe me. You know, I’ve been up all night, not sober. There’s drugs in the car. There’s a dead person in the backseat. … At that point, I thought I need to get rid of the body.
DAVID BOGDANOV: This was a very humiliating thing that happened to me … I just wanted to put this behind me, like wishing it never happened.
Bogdanov said that’s when he drove Nikki’s body to Larch Mountain.
DAVID BOGDANOV: I pulled her out of the car and there is that spot by the road, where the hill just went down really steep, I just kind of pushed her down that.
Then Bogdanov told the court he left the country just hours after killing Nikki, buying a last-minute ticket to Ukraine.
ERIN MCALEER: Can you tell the jury why, why you left the country?
DAVID BOGDANOV: I was scared. An emotional wreck. And I was thinking I knew I needed to quit my drinking. And that I likely would not have been in this situation if I hadn’t been drinking … And I just wanted to get away.
Kristen Arnaud: The fact that he had multiple different stories that he had had at least two opportunities to give this explanation to detectives and hadn’t, the fact that he dumped the body, the fact that he ran from the country, all things kind of point to a guilty conscience and not someone who thinks that their actions are justified.
Both sides made their case one last time during closing arguments.
KRISTEN ARNAUD: His motivation the entire time has been … his hate, his rage, his shame for finding out that Nikki was transgender. It’s not about fear. This case is NOT about self-defense.
Defense attorney Matthew Hoff strongly disagreed.
MATTHEW HOFF: Nikki Kuhnhausen is not here today, not because she was transgender, but because Mr. Bogdanov was put in a life and death situation.
JUSTICE FOR NIKKI
Lisa Woods: She just loved the camera, you know?
Jamie Yuccas: It seemed like the camera liked her back.
Lisa Woods: Mm-hmm.
Lisa Woods: Nikki was just Nikki. She kind of led the way. I just followed.
Devon Williamson: She was very empowered and very steadfast in her identity and I think very strong, probably in a way that society struggles to handle.
After two weeks of an emotional trial – and more than two years after Nikki Kuhnhausen’s death – would jurors believe David Bogdanov’s claim of self-defense?
Lily Bogdanov: David is not the person that they made him out to be. … David is kind, David is caring.
Or the prosecution’s case, that he murdered Nikki after he learned she was transgender.
Kristen Arnaud: She was so strong in her identity and that’s ultimately why she was killed.
The jury deliberated for more than two days.
Linden Walls: We weren’t sure how it was going to go, there was a possibility of a hung jury.
Finally, on day three, they informed the judge they had reached a unanimous decision.
JUDGE DAVID GREGERSON: We the jury find the above-named defendant guilty of the crime of murder in the second degree, as charged in count one. Verdict form count two: we the jury find the above-named defendant guilty of the crime of malicious harassment.
A hate crime in Washington.
Devon Williamson: It’s a win, it’s a really big win.
Colin Hayes: I’m just happy to get justice for Nikki’s family.
Two weeks later, Lisa Woods would ask the judge to impose the maximum sentence.
LISA WOODS | VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENT: [Crying] I won’t see her smile, watch her graduate, see her married or watch her grow.
Lisa Woods: I wanted to show how Nikki could have been … And so many things that were stolen from us. So many milestones that she’ll never get to do. And I miss her every day.
Before handing down the sentence, Judge David Gregerson addressed the court saying he was “struck by the darker nature of this crime.”
JUDGE DAVID GREGERSON: It conjures up old childhood legends of the boogeyman, of trust gone terribly wrong.
Fighting back tears, the judge continued for almost 15 minutes.
JUDGE DAVID GREGERSON: The movement towards something resembling justice may be seen as a step in the greater overall movement from darkness toward light. In this court’s view, that can and should be Nikki Kuhnhausen’s legacy.
to the maximum — 19-and-a-half years for Nikki’s murder with 12 concurrent months for the malicious harassment charge.
Kristen Arnaud: I think it was appropriate in this case.
Colin Hayes: It doesn’t necessarily seem like … a long amount of time when you think about what he took from Nikki and Nikki’s family.
After sentencing, family, friends and supporters gathered outside the courtroom.
Lisa Woods: She was just a baby. She was just a teenager. He took her life, and you know he got the maximum. And that’s what he deserves.
DEVON DAVIS WILLIAMSON [addressing at a vigil held after sentencing]: Nikki’s story has allowed us to take a giant leap forward.
Woods’ and Nikki’s supporters have tried to find a way for her legacy to help and protect others.
Linden Walls: Finding a way to memorialize Nikki and empower other trans teenagers to pursue their dreams I think is the next step.
And that happened with the passing of legislation in Washington State known as Nikki’s Law.
It’s designed to prevent defendants charged with violent crimes from relying on a victim’s gender identity or sexual orientation – the so-called gay or trans panic defense.
Kristen Arnaud: Nikki’s law … makes it impossible to use what’s called the trans panic defense in court … where someone says that they were so out of control when they found out that someone was trans … that you essentially aren’t culpable for your actions.
Washington is one of 16 states to pass similar legislation. Nikki’s supporters hope her law will inspire even more states to follow suit.
Jamie Yuccas: What’s it like to know that your daughter’s legacy — there’s a law named after her?
Lisa Woods: I’m glad it will help other people. … I want her death to mean something to someone who may contemplate hurting another transgender person.
Williamson and Walls are proud of what they achieved with the Justice for Nikki Task Force, and hope Nikki’s story will help the transgender community.
Devon Davis Williamson: My hope … is that this work has created a domino effect and this will hopefully lead to other trans kids and teens in similar life situations having a different life outcome.
As Lisa Woods moves forward without Nikki, she carries a special reminder of her daughter – a necklace she wears every day.
Lisa Woods: I just got this for my birthday from my son, Alex … And he made it to put Nikki’s ashes in …
Jamie Yuccas: You always have Nikki close to your heart.
Lisa Woods: Yes.
Jamie Yuccas: How do you want Nikki remembered?
Lisa Woods: For her loyalty to what she believed in, staying true to who she was, just staying true to her family and friends no matter what. … Unconditional love for everyone.
According to the, there were more violent deaths of transgender and non-binary people in the U.S. in 2021 than any other year on record.
Produced by Susan Mallie. Mead Stone is the producer-editor. Jennifer Terker is a producer. Gayane Keshishyan Mendez is the development producer. Emma Steele is the field producer. Greg Kaplan, Marcus Balsam and Phil Tangel are the editors. Lauren Turner Dunn is the associate producer. Anthony Batson is the senior broadcast producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer.