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Man charged in slaying of transgender woman

By Adam Ferrise • Apr 11, 2018 at 10:00 PM

CLEVELAND — An East Cleveland man is accused of fatally shooting a 46-year-old transgender woman while collecting a drug debt, according to police.

Gary Sanders, 36, is charged with aggravated murder in the Feb. 24 fatal shooting of Phylicia Mitchell.

Sanders is not in police custody and a warrant was issued Tuesday for his arrest.

Mitchell, the first transgender person killed in Cleveland since 2016, was shot in the chest outside her home on West 112th Street near Detroit Avenue in the city's Edgewater neighborhood.

Sanders went to the home to collect a drug debt and the two argued about stolen drugs and money, according to court records.

The argument turned into a fight over Sanders' gun, court records say. The gun fired and a bullet hit Mitchell in the chest, killing her, according to court records.

Officers found her dead on the living room floor with one arm slumped on the couch, police reports say. Neighbors reported to investigators that the home is a known drug house, according to police reports.

Mitchell was a trained hairstylist who battled drug addiction for most of her life, Mitchell's longtime partner, Shane Mitchell said. He said the two had been partners for decades and they had what he called "mock wedding" in 2017, when Phylicia Mitchell legally changed her name to take his last name.

The couple had separated about two weeks prior to the slaying after an argument about her drug use, Shane Mitchell said.

Sanders has been convicted in 17 felony cases since 2002, including six times for drug trafficking and seven times for drug possession. Other convictions include domestic violence, obstructing justice and receiving stolen property.

He was most recently convicted in 2015 for selling heroin and crack cocaine in Lakewood. He was sentenced sentenced to 18 months in prison after he violated the terms of his probation.

Sanders was acquitted in a 2004 bench trial on an attempted murder charge in connection with a shooting during an attempted robbery in downtown Cleveland.

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