O'Hare pilot gets plea deal in home castration

ABC 7 I-Team Investigation

ByChuck Goudie and Christine Tressel WLS logo
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
O'Hare pilot gets plea deal in home castration
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A bizarre criminal case involving an airline captain at O'Hare and a home castration has ended much more normally: with a plea deal.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A bizarre criminal case involving a commercial airline captain at O'Hare, an Army surgical kit and a home castration has ended much more normally: with a plea deal.

Pilot James L. Pennington pleaded guilty to practicing medicine without a license after using an Army surgical kit to remove the testicles of a transgender woman.

Pennington, 57, was arrested last May by police in Denver, Colorado and charged with assault. The felony assault charge was dropped as part of Pennington's guilty plea.

The surreptitious surgeon actually worked for ExpressJet Airlines the past 12 years, according to company records obtained by the I-Team. Co-workers said he was based at Chicago O'Hare where he flew for United Express.

Pennington, not a licensed doctor, performed the 90-minute illicit surgery in the transgender woman's apartment. Investigators said he used a scalpel from a military field surgical kit to disconnect and remove the person's two testicles and he then stitched up the incision.

Authorities said the patient's wife called an ambulance about three hours later when "a large amount of blood" began gushing from the sutured incision. Authorities said she was taken to Medical Center of Aurora outside Denver but that the testicles could not be reattached because of the several hours between the procedure and the 911 call.

After his arrest, Pennington was placed on administrative leave from the airline. As part of his plea agreement he faces a sentence of two years court supervision and no jail time, according to Ken Lane,

communications director for the Denver District Attorney. Sentencing is Aug. 21.

On Tuesday, Pennington told the I-Team that he is "planning to go back to work" at ExpressJet. Bobbie Batista, communications director ExpressJets, told the I-Team "Mr. Pennington is currently still on leave status."

In a brief phone conversation with the I-Team after his plea deal and sentencing, Pennington said that "the news media has not treated me fairly." When asked for details, Pennington referred ABC7 to his attorney.

"Mr. Pennington remains disappointed that charges were ever filed," said attorney Douglas Richards. "That decision was against Jane Doe's wishes," according to Richards, referring to the unidentified person who underwent the clandestine operation.

In a statement Richards said that Pennington "is pleased that this has brought attention to the daily struggles of the transgender community. It's not every day that someone, like my client, risks their own liberty to help a stranger who is a victim of her own body."

An attorney representing the transgender woman who underwent the procedure says she "is thankful the case is almost over and wishes Mr. Pennington the best."

According to attorney David M. Beller, "she is fully recovered and is happy in her new body. She hopes that her ordeal serves as a wake-up call to the public to realize that medical health of a trans person is a human need and not merely a choice of convenience."

As the I-Team reported on May 23, a letter written by transgender woman Jane Doe offered some insight as to how the castration surgery came to be.

"I tried for many years to go through legitimate routes to get these surgeries which would make my physical genitalia match my gender. Yet every time something went wrong" Doe wrote. "Whether it be the loss of insurance, or changes in the law, I have been stopped at every single turn from completing my transition. Eventually it became too much. My body is my body, and my gender is my gender, and I am the only one who gets to decide how I want my transition to go."

Doe claimed in the letter that she wasn't a victim of Pennington, chose to have the "unlicensed operation" and that he's not a monster. "I contacted Mr. Pennington because he offered to do me a favor and help me get an operation which I so badly needed for my mental and physical health" Doe wrote. "He offered me a kindness which the environment I live in denied me."