Kuykendall seeks reduction in murder sentence

Sora Kuykendall
Sora Kuykendall

A status hearing was held last Wednesday morning at the Monroe County Courthouse regarding Jordan Kuykendall, who is serving a 40-year sentence at Menard Correctional Center in Chester for the June 27, 2013, stabbing death of former girlfriend and Columbia High School student Erin Schneider.

Schneider, 17, had an order of protection against Kuykendall that was scheduled to expire the afternoon of the murder.

In November 2014, Kuykendall, who was 21 at the time of the murder, pleaded guilty but mentally ill to first-degree murder and was sentenced to 40 years in prison with the assurance mental health care would be provided while incarcerated.

Now, however, that very plea, which was negotiated with now-retired Monroe County State’s Attorney Kris Reitz, is under scrutiny as Kuykendall’s attorneys argue there was a “substantial denial” of rights under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects against “cruel and unusual punishment.”

At the crux of the argument is that Kuykendall, who is transgender and now identifies as a female named Sora, was not in a mental state to fully understand the consequences of her plea due to the emotional stress of being transgender as well as suffering from major depression and personality disorder.

Immediately following the stabbing, Kuykendall got into her car and drove it head-on into a Hummer traveling westbound on Route 158. The driver of the Hummer was not seriously injured, but Kuykendall was airlifted from the scene.

Kuykendall’s attorneys seek a reduction of the 40-year negotiated sentence.

Monroe County State’s Attorney Chris Hitzemann, acting on behalf of the state, made a motion to dismiss Kuykendall’s latest filing, claiming her attorneys fail to substantially show a constitutional violation occurred and also failed to appeal her sentence within the required 30 days.

Kuykendall has until May 2 to enter a response to that motion.

Kuykendall’s gender identity is also at the center of another legal action. She is one of six Illinois Department of Corrections transgender inmates who are part of a class action suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the IDOC, Gov. Bruce Rauner and more, for “gross inadequacies in the medical treatment provided to prisoners with gender dysphoria,” according to a statement by ACLU Illinois.

The ACLU lawsuit reads:

“All of the women have been denied one or more medical treatments for gender dysphoria: appropriate hormone therapy, gender-affirming surgery, gender-appropriate clothing and/or other forms of medically necessary care to support social transition. 

“The class action suit seeks to force IDOC to reform its medical care system to treat transgender prisoners more humanely and consistent with the well-established medical standards for treating gender dysphoria.”

The suit continues to claim Kuykendall first identified as a female at age 6, but abandoned that due to familial pressures. She claims she came out as transgender in January 2014 and entered IDOC in December 2014, where she continues to have limited family interaction due to her gender dysphoria.

“During intake at Menard Correctional Center, a social worker asked Sora ‘you’re a boy, right,’ to which Sora responded ‘no.’ Within her first week of incarceration, Sora asked for hormones and explained that she wanted to transition. IDOC did not evaluate Sora for gender dysphoria and did not provide any treatment. 

“As a result, and after becoming disturbed by the fact that she was for the first time growing facial hair, Sora attempted to castrate herself.” 

Kuykendall has since begun taking hormones at Menard but, according to the suit, has been denied evaluation for gender reassignment surgery, gender affirming clothing and grooming supplies, and social transitioning.

No response has been issued to the suit by attorneys from any of the defendants.

Kuykendall and the other plaintiffs are being represented by ACLU attorneys.

(Corey Saathoff contributed to this story)

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