Nikki Kuhnhausen’s mother and supporters exhaled a collective sigh of relief Friday as a judge announced that David Bogdanov was found guilty of second-degree murder and malicious harassment in the transgender teen’s death.
As the hate-crime verdict was read, Kuhnhausen’s supporters quietly exclaimed “yes!” with tears in their eyes.
“We were all holding hands while we were awaiting the verdict to be read and that was really powerful,” Justice for Nikki task force member Linden Walls said after the reading. “It felt like we were all together … and the sense of relief that came that we got justice for Nikki, that we were able to push this and the jury could see it and did the right thing. That felt really good.”
Bogdanov, 27, of Vancouver is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 9 in Clark County Superior Court. He’s facing a sentencing range of 11 to 19½ years in prison, according to the prosecution.
During trial, prosecutors argued Bogdanov strangled Kuhnhausen, 17, of Vancouver because she was transgender. The defense argued it was self-defense.
Following the verdict, Bogdanov’s defense attorneys declined to comment until after sentencing.
Deputy Prosecutor Kristen Arnaud said in an email that the prosecution is happy with the outcome of the trial.
“We want to thank our law enforcement partners who put in a lot of work on this case, especially Detective David Jensen and Detective Jason Mills of Vancouver Police. Without their work, we would not have been able to bring justice for Nikki and give closure to her family,” Arnaud wrote. “We also want to thank the jurors for their service. This was a long trial and a huge commitment on their part.”
The jury heard testimony about Bogdanov meeting Kuhnhausen in June 2019 in downtown Vancouver, having sexual contact with her in the back seat of his car and finding out she was transgender.
Bogdanov testified Tuesday that when he pushed Kuhnhausen away and yelled at her to get out of his car, she lunged for a loaded gun he had near the driver’s seat. He said he wrapped a phone charger around her shoulder to pull her away, but the cord slipped up around her neck.
During closing arguments, the prosecution noted that Bogdanov lied multiple times to police and never claimed he’d had to defend himself from Kuhnhausen.
The defense argued that Bogdanov didn’t tell the truth because he didn’t want his family to know he had sexual contact with someone who was born male. Bogdanov testified he would’ve been shunned if his family found out.
After Kuhnhausen’s death, Bogdanov dumped her body down the hillside of Larch Mountain, booked a one-way flight to Ukraine and called a friend to “get rid” of his car, according to trial testimony. He returned to the U.S. about six weeks later.
In a Facebook post following the verdict, the group Justice for Nikki applauded the jury’s findings.
“The long buildup to this trial, and the defense’s attempts to somehow paint Nikki, who was a 17-year-old girl, as being ‘responsible’ for the defendant’s violent actions, were excruciating for us, and particularly for Nikki’s mother Lisa,” the post reads in part. “There’s no excuse for what happened to Nikki. This hate crime wounded our community.”
Outside the Clark County Courthouse, Justice for Nikki task force member Devon Davis Williamson noted that a small ligature (a device for tying or binding something tightly) was used to kill Kuhnhausen.
“I think it stands as quite the metaphor for the social and cultural ligature that is placed on trans people. I think what today actually stands for is more about a movement toward a loosening of that cultural and social ligature than anything else,” Davis Williamson told The Columbian and KOIN-TV. “We have definitely not overcome something by this verdict. We have found some justice for Nikki. But we have a long, long way to go.”
Davis Williamson said an issue that came up with the jury Thursday during deliberations was “exhausting.”
That afternoon, the jury expressed concerns to the court about potential juror misconduct. The jury said it had reached a verdict on one count but was deadlocked on the other. In notes passed to the court, the jury said one of the jurors appeared to be basing her decision on personal bias and not the facts of the case.
Ultimately, the judge called the jurors back in Thursday afternoon and re-read the jury instruction on deliberations. The jury then continued to deliberate until 5 p.m., and resumed deliberations this morning. The verdict was reached shortly before 9 a.m.
“We were confident going in that David Bogdanov would be convicted of at least the murder charge. We’re also aware of the culture of Clark County and were unsure about the hate crime, despite all of the evidence. It’s a win; it’s a really big win,” Davis Williamson said of the hate-crime finding.
Walls said it was disappointing that Bogdanov used a “panic defense” for trial.
“It’s not an appropriate defense, and I think the jury kind of is holding true for that for Clark County,” Walls said.
In March 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law House Bill 1687 — dubbed The Nikki Kuhnhausen Act — that prevents a criminal defense based on discovery of a victim’s actual or perceived gender identity or sexual orientation.