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Leslie Elaine Perez Sanity Hearing (1964)

KPRC-TV

Silent | 1964

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  •  Wharton County Courthouse 
  •  Leslie Elaine Perez 
  •  Harris County District Attorney Frank Briscoe (seated) confers with Assistant District Attorney Neil McKay 
  •  Defense attorney Clyde Woody and his client, Carolyn Lima 
 
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This unedited footage from Houston’s KPRC-TV captures the sanity hearing for Leslie Elaine Perez (a transgender woman then known as Leslie Douglas Ashley) on May 11, 1964. The defense argued that Perez was not guilty by reason of insanity. Unable to understand the complexities of gender identity and expression, the court agreed, interpreting Perez’s reported cross-dressing as mental illness. Perez was convicted in 1961 for the fatal shooting of Houston realtor Fred Tones and sentenced to execution. Perez’s girlfriend, Carolyn Lima, was also convicted and sentenced to death. Federal Circuit Judge John R. Brown issued stays of execution for Lima and Perez on March 29, 1963, four hours before they were scheduled to die. The US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals later ruled that the prosecution had suppressed evidence favorable to the defendants, and ordered new trials for both. Following their second trials, Lima was sentenced to five years in prison, and Perez was declared insane and sent to a state mental hospital in San Antonio. Perez escaped, spending six months on the run before being discovered working as a clown for a traveling carnival. Perez was tried again for Tones’ murder and sentenced to 15 years, serving five.