Donna Hylton served 27 years in prison for her role in the grisly murder and torture of Thomas Vigliarolo, New York businessman who was found stuffed inside a steamer trunk in Harlem.
The prosecutor at the trial stated that Hylton and six others let him die "in the most heinous circumstances." On Thursday, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) honored Hylton as one of "America's most impactful community leaders" and asked her to be part of a video reading of the Preamble to the Constitution during the televised portion of the convention.
Some were puzzled and others infuriated by her appearance, with many wondering why the DNC would honor a woman who was involved in the brutal rape, torture and murder of a 62-year-old man.
Hylton tweeted on Thursday night that she has received threats on social media since her appearance.
"Getting hate messages and very un-Christian attacks on @Twitter. Learned a valuable lesson years ago from my Pastor *Give Unto Ceasar (sic) that which is Cesar's* With that said, hope those filled w/hate find some peace. Stay focused #DemConvention," she wrote.
The tweet sparked support and even harsher criticism on Twitter.
Adnan Khan commented: "F$&k these bots and the cowards who don't have a picture or use their real name. Look where you are! You clearly have more value than them. They should google me next. And the 10million+ of is [sic] out here after me. We could do this all day."
Rodney H. wrote, "The vitriol I'm seeing directed at my friend and colleague from dense, white racists is infuriating. Please go find something better to do with your time than harass a Black woman doing libertion [sic] work."
One user reminded others, "Did anyone notice listed under the DNC's ‘America's most impactful community leaders’ was Donna Hylton? She's a classy 55-year-old woman convicted for the kidnapping, rape, torture and murder of a 62-year-old Long Island real estate broker in 1986."
@Covidhomeschool wrote: "You are the furthest thing from a Christian. Pretend all you want about loving Jesus. People who torture and murder do not go to heaven. There is no making up for what you did. Yet, you are monitizing [sic] off it! Just shows how you really are not sorry. Hell gates await you!"
According to court records, 19-year-old Hylton and her partners drugged and kidnapped Vigliarolo at the request of Louis Miranda, who had accused Vigliarolo of swindling him out of $139,000 on a con they had ran. The seven of them, three men and four women, held Vigliarolo captive for about 15 days and starved, burned, beat, sexually assaulted and raped him.
According to the prosecutor, he died of "asphyxiation and the deprivations of his imprisonment."
At trial, Hylton stated that she participated in the crime under duress and that Miranda had threatened to kill her 4-year-old daughter if she didn't. She was convicted of second-degree murder and two counts of first-degree kidnapping and was sentenced to 25 years to life in jail.
While in jail, Hylton got her college degree in 1992, and a master's degree in women's studies and English literature from Marymount Manhattan College. She became an ordained Christian minister in 2011 and was paroled a year later.
On Friday, Hylton told Fox News that she was innocent of the charges against her.
"As a 19-year-old survivor of human trafficking and sexual violence who was coerced into a horrible situation, I was powerless to stop what happened to him," she said. "Yet, despite being innocent I was convicted and incarcerated for 27 years. What happened to Mr. Vigliarolo should not ever happen to anyone and I have spent my life since then fighting on the side of truth and justice for myself and countless others caught in the cycle of perpetual violence and victimization."
Since she was released, Hylton has been an outspoken advocate on prison reform, recidivism and gender inequality in jails. She has spoken at universities and seminars all over the country and is frequently called on as a guest expert on the topic.
She has authored a book and founded an organization, From Life To Life, which supports women who have been victims of abuse and the criminal justice system.
Sources: America Now