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CBS News 8 – San Diego, CA News Station – KFMB Channel 8

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) – Prostitute Donna Gentile’s autopsy will remain sealed, even though it’s been more than 30 years since the police informant’s high-profile murder.

Gentile, 22, was found naked, beaten and strangled off Sunrise Highway in 1985, five weeks after she implicated two San Diego Police officers in a prostitution scandal.

Reports that the killer had stuffed gravel in Gentile’s mouth led some to wonder if she was murdered because she talked.

In her May 1985 testimony before the Civil Service Commission, Gentile said that SDPD officer Larry Avrech had been to her apartment on several occasions, and that the two had sexual contact.

Avrech, at the time age 32, denied having sex with Gentile but he was fired from the police department nonetheless for giving Gentile inside information on vice raids.

Gentile also testified about traveling to the Colorado River with SDPD Lieutenant Carl Black and another SDPD officer. Black was demoted to sergeant for contacting Gentile’s probation officer on her behalf.

In December 2015, CBS News 8 requested the San Diego County Medical Examiner release Gentile’s autopsy under the California Public Records Act.

The agency issued a denial letter, which said the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department wants to keep the autopsy sealed:

Until this directive is rescinded by the investigating agency, we are unable to release any information or provide any copies of our reports regarding this case… The public interest in the release of these reports and the information contained within does not outweigh the public’s interest to withhold this information as it may interfere with law enforcement’s investigation and/or a successful prosecution.

 

San Diego’s NHI Murder Victim

NHI Artist Credit: Deborah Small, Scott Kessler, Elizabeth Sisco,Carla Kirkwood, & Louis Hock

NHI is an acronym for “No Humans Involved”:  In the 1980s of America, police in LA used to refer to the murders of prostitutes, gang members, and drugs addicts (majority black and in poverty) as NHI, “No Humans Involved.” This attitude is still prevalent today.

The “NHI” — No Humans Involved — movement resulted from activists coming together to show the power of women and to expose the truth of how “marginal” people are treated. The project was unveiled on February 19, 1992, with two billboards that faced both the county administration center and the San Diego Police headquarters, bearing the picture of Donna and the logo “NHI.” The goal of the NHI project was to pay tribute to the murdered women, raise public awareness about the series of murders and the botched police investigation, and relate the local reaction to the crimes to larger social attitudes toward general violence. The purpose of NHI was to humanize the victims and demonstrate that violence against any woman is unacceptable.

Sex workers victimized by violence remembered at Philadelphia vigil

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About two dozen activists gathered at Center City’s Thomas Paine Plaza on Sunday to mark the 14th annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers with a grim recital of 2017 murder victims and new hope that local officials are finally taking seriously their pleas to decriminalize sex work.

“This day is a day where we come together to bring light and commemorate these women across the world who went unnoticed – and lived a life that perhaps wasn’t a choice,” said the vigil’s main speaker, Anita DeFrancesco, a local activist whose cousin Donna Marie Gentile was a sex worker who went missing and was found murdered in San Diego in 1985.

DeFrancesco and the event organizers hoped their yearly vigil – which has drawn little attention in past years – could rally support for their goals of keeping sex workers out of jail, as well as encouraging more local support to end violence against the community.

The vigil organizers were encouraged by the attendance of a surrogate for Philadelphia district attorney-elect Larry Krasner, T.J. Ghose, an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice. Ghose said the incoming DA had pledged during his campaign to drastically reduce criminal prosecutions of sex workers as part of his goal to reduce the number of women of color behind bars.

“Sex work is a gateway,” said Ghose, who has worked with a 70,000-member union of sex workers in India. “If we’re going to end mass incarceration, prosecuting sex workers has to stop.”

Under an initiative known as LEAD, for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, law enforcement and prosecutors working under outgoing District Attorney Kelley Hodge have already made strides in diverting women who once might have been charged with prostitution into social-service programs, Ghose said.

Melanie Dante, one of the vigil organizers, said the event has drawn support from an array of nonprofit community groups since the first one in 2012, but had never before received an endorsement from a prominent politician. “The stigma of sex work proved too controversial to be identified with,” she said, “which greatly saddens and disappoints us.”

The global anti-violence event was launched in 2003 in response to the Green River serial killings of sex workers in the Pacific Northwest; its founder was a Philadelphia native, a well-known sex educator and adult performer who goes by the name Annie Sprinkle. Sunday’s attendees gathered in a tight circle under a steely-gray December sky as shoppers bound for the nearby Christmas Village strolled past.

When the vigil was initially planned, organizers said they would read the names of 31 sex workers murdered across the United States in 2017, but then the number grew to 34 with three additional killings just this week. Dante said the problem fails to draw attention from the news media or public officials, even though studies show sex workers face a risk of violence on the job as much as 400 times the average person on the job.

One of the vigil attendees – Carl Henkle, 43, a nurse-practitioner from Lancaster County who has worked in correctional facilities there – said he wanted to show that supporting sex workers “is sort of a humanitarian issue, because when sex workers are criminalized and need health-care services, they’re shut out.”

“It’s a community of people who are literally not allowed to speak up when they’re being victimized or attacked, which is a human-rights violation,” said co-organizer Eris Vayle, 32, of Philadelphia. She explained that the risky legal status for sex workers leaves them exposed to predatory behavior by law enforcement officers.

Phoebe Jones, coordinator of the Crossroads Women’s Center in Germantown, agreed that criminalizing sex work makes women much less likely to report violence, and thus leaves them more vulnerable.

Many of those who rallied to show support on Sunday were men, such as Ethan Jacobi, 32, a hospital data analyst and a local podcaster who tried to produce a program about sex workers and said he found their myriad problems to be overwhelming.

“The best thing I can do is support them,” he said, “mostly by showing up and listening.”

 

We Remember Philly Native and NHI Murder Victim Donna Gentile: 1962-1985

We Remember Philly Native and NHI Murder Victim Donna Gentile: 1962-1985

On behalf of this day Dec 17 Violence Against Sex Workers I want to shed light on the many women in this country and the world  that go without a voice. Without a voice to be heard, without a voice to see, without a voice to cry, without a voice to be understood, without a voice to be accepted,  and without a voice in the grave. I speak today on behalf of a dear first cousin of mine ( Donna Gentile) a native Philadelphian, a young prostitute  who was the first in the NHI project of women who went missing and was murdered in San Diego back in the 1980’s. Donna was murdered  because she wanted to stand up and have her voice heard in a court room to prove her innocence. But Donna never got that chance to finish her prosecution against the San Diego police who troubled her life.  Donna was a courageous and strong  girl who believed in life and she wanted her voice heard in many ways. Donna was faced with challenges from early on in her family life which led her to run to the streets because her voice wasn’t heard at home.  I today am a voice for Donna my cousin and all women who alive or dead want to be heard.  So for a moment I want you to hear me loud and clear and honor the voice of an empowered woman channeling for all of those women who went unheard.

Take a moment in silence now, place a hand on your heart 

 lets together  reflect on our own  voice 

and how you can have that courage for the voiceless.

 

Anita DeFrancesco, M.A.

Dec 17, 2017

Donna Gentile’s Autopsy

SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) – Prostitute Donna Gentile’s autopsy will remain sealed, even though it’s been more than 30 years since the police informant’s high-profile murder.

Gentile, 22, was found naked, beaten and strangled off Sunrise Highway in 1985, five weeks after she implicated two San Diego Police officers in a prostitution scandal.

Reports that the killer had stuffed gravel in Gentile’s mouth led some to wonder if she was murdered because she talked.

In her May 1985 testimony before the Civil Service Commission, Gentile said that SDPD officer Larry Avrech had been to her apartment on several occasions, and that the two had sexual contact.

Avrech, at the time age 32, denied having sex with Gentile but he was fired from the police department nonetheless for giving Gentile inside information on vice raids.

Gentile also testified about traveling to the Colorado River with SDPD Lieutenant Carl Black and another SDPD officer. Black was demoted to sergeant for contacting Gentile’s probation officer on her behalf.

In December 2015, CBS News 8 requested the San Diego County Medical Examiner release Gentile’s autopsy under the California Public Records Act.

The agency issued a denial letter, which said the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department wants to keep the autopsy sealed:

Until this directive is rescinded by the investigating agency, we are unable to release any information or provide any copies of our reports regarding this case… The public interest in the release of these reports and the information contained within does not outweigh the public’s interest to withhold this information as it may interfere with law enforcement’s investigation and/or a successful prosecution.

Gentile’s 1985 autopsy was the first to be sealed in San Diego County under a policy that remains in effect to this day.

The county policy allows a law enforcement agency – in this case the Sheriff’s Department – to keep autopsies secret by submitting an annual sealing request to the Medical Examiner’s office.

Dozens of homicide autopsies remain sealed as a result, including Gentile’s 1985 autopsy, investigative and toxicology reports.

In a recent interview with CBS News 8, Sheriff’s homicide Lieutenant Ken Nelson admitted that cold case detectives are not investigating any leads in the case. Still, Nelson said there are good reasons to keep Gentile’s autopsy sealed.

“If somebody were to come forward and we do have a suspect we’re interviewing, we want to make sure we have the right person. We don’t want someone to give a false confession and that has happened in the past,” Lt. Nelson said.

History professor Jerry Limberg wrote her 2012 thesis on Gentile’s unsolved murder.

“She was either killed because she was a part of a series of prostitute murders that had been happening in the 1980s…

or the fact that she was informing on the San Diego Police Department,”

said Limberg, who lectures at Cal State San Marcos and Palomar College.

Gentile’s death certificate lists the cause of death as “manual strangulation and airway obstruction by foreign material” and indicates she was “beaten and strangled by another person.”

“She was still alive at the time gravel was stamped down her throat so it could have been to shut her up,” said Limberg.

One previously identified suspect in Gentile’s murder is convicted rapist and murderer Ronald Elliot Porter. He currently is serving a life sentence for killing Sandra Cwik, 43, in 1988 and dumping her body in the same general area as Gentile’s.

During Porter’s trial, five women testified that Porter had picked them up hitchhiking along Interstate 8, then pulled over near Buckman Springs, choked them into unconsciousness, and sexually assaulted them.

Porter raped Cwik with a foreign object and, reportedly, did the same to other victims. Evidence showing whether Gentile was raped with a foreign object is not publicly available because her autopsy is sealed.

Now, with no new leads in the case, Limberg believes Gentile’s autopsy should be made public.

“It’s been 30 years. If they’ve exhausted all of their leads, why not let the public help them?” said Limberg.

Avrech said he is in the process of writing a book about Gentile’s murder and he is planning on “naming names.”

Carl Black, the demoted SDPD officer, was reinstated as a lieutenant in 1986 and eventually retired from the police department.

Over the years, detectives have interviewed hundreds of people and gathered thousands of pages of reports. New DNA testing was conducted in 2007 but failed to identify a suspect.

And, while the Sheriff’s department says there is nothing left to investigate, those who follow the case are still hoping for an arrest.

“It shouldn’t matter when it happened. It matters that she was a human being.

It matters that she died a brutal murder regardless of who committed that crime,” said Limberg.