A meme titled “Hi, I Am Donna Hylton” recounts the past of a Women’s March speaker who allegedly tortured and murdered a 60-year-old man in 1985.
Donna Hylton was convicted of being an accessory to murder in the 1985 death of 60-year-old Thomas Vigliarole. After spending 27 years in prison, Hylton went on to become a criminal justice reform activist and a speaker at the 2017 Women’s March.
Various websites and memes have used Donna Hylton’s criminal past to discredit the Women’s March or to question the motives of its organizers. One meme titled “Hi, I am Donna Hylton” sums up these criticisms in a few brief sentences:
I was chosen as a featured speaker to the Women’s March on DC. Before we murdered a 60 year old homosexual man in 1985, we tortured him for days. We squeezed his testicles with pliers, beat him, burned him and I personally shoved a yard long metal rod up his rectum because I am an oppressed woman. Now I lecture at universities on women’s rights so your daughters have someone to look up to.
We’ll take a look at Donna Hylton’s background and some of the specific claims made in the “Hi, I am Donna Hylton” meme.
Donna Hylton was 20 years old when she was arrested and charged with second degree murder in the death of Thomas Vigliarole. An April, 8, 1985, New York Times article lists Hylton as one of seven people who was arrested in connection with the death.
NYPD investigation revealed that a member of Hylton’s group believed that Vigliarole, a realtor and con man, had swindled him out of nearly $140,000 on mutual con job. The group reportedly kidnapped Vigliarole, delivered a ransom note to his business partner for more than $400,000, and later tortured and killed him.
As for Hylton, she told Psychology Today magazine in 1993 that she’d been forced to take part in the kidnapping and murder. Hylton told an interviewer that she served as a driver because she was young and pretty, and she claims that she only took part because she feared for her and her daughter’s lives:
I drove the car from there to the place in Harlem where he [Vigliarolo] was kept. Most of the time I was just driving Maria and the guys to different places in the city after that. They knew that I looked young and pretty and wouldn’t attract much attention from the cops if they saw me driving around … Yeah, but I never felt that I would be able to get away for a minute without them finding me. And I couldn’t think of my daughter being hurt. When Maria and the others got arrested, there was no way for me to prove that I was forced to do what I did. I mean, Maria wasn’t about to testify on my behalf and neither were the others, so my two friends and I were kidnappers and murderers. That’s it.
In a 1995 interview with Psychology Today, New York City Detective William Spurling talked about Hylton and her role in the murder:
“I couldn’t believe this girl who was so intelligent and nice-looking could be so unemotional about what she was telling me she and her friends had done. They’d squeezed the victim’s testicles with a pair of pliers, beat him, burned him. Actually, I thought the judge’s sentence was lenient. Once a jailbird, always a jailbird.”
So, claims about the murder itself are backed up by official law enforcement accounts. However, Hylton has said that she played a passive role in the kidnapping and murder because she feared for her and her daughter’s lives.
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