October 18, 2015 at 10:30 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Police: Trans woman killed after suspect ‘embarrassed’

Rico Leblond, gay news, Washington Blade

Rico Leblond of Germantown has been charged with first degree murder in connection with the death of Zella Ziona. (Photo courtesy of Montgomery County Police Department)

The man charged in the Oct. 15 murder of transgender woman Zella Ziona, 21, in Montgomery County shot her multiple times after she embarrassed him by approaching him in a flamboyant way in front of his “crew,” according to a police document filed in court.

The document, entitled a Statement of Probable Cause, was filed in Montgomery County General District Court on Saturday. It says witnesses told detectives that Rico Hector Leblond, 20, and Ziona knew each other and the shooting took place following a “simmering dispute that had been escalating” between the two.

The statement identifies Ziona as a trans woman but refers to her by her birth name.

“Witnesses said that after initially shooting Smith, the suspect walked over to her, stood over her, and fired more rounds into her body,” the police statement says. “Smith suffered gunshot wounds to the head and groin area,” it says.

Police said the shooting took place shortly before 5:50 p.m. Oct. 15 in an alley behind the Montgomery Village Crossing shopping center just outside Gaithersburg. The police statement filed in court says Ziona was taken to Suburban Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 8:12 p.m.

“It appears that Smith and Leblond had some sort of friendship and that information had now become public,” the police statement says. “Leblond was very upset with Smith when this information came to light. In the recent past, Leblond was with his crew at the Lake Forest Mall when Smith approached his group and began acting flamboyantly towards Leblond and greatly embarrassed Leblond in front of his peers,” says the statement.

The statement says a witness who was standing a few feet away when the shooting occurred provided this information to detectives investigating the murder. The identity of the witness is being withheld out of “fear of reprisal,” the statement says.

According to the statement, police received a call for service about 5 p.m. on the day of the murder from someone at the Lake Forest Transit Center saying three to five males were fighting with a stick and a knife. Lake Forest Transit Center and Lake Forest Mall are located a short distance from the area where Ziona was shot.

“Detectives believe that Smith was assaulted by a subject with a stick at that time,” the statement says. “This event may have served as a precursor to lure Smith into the alleyway to fight and where she was ultimately murdered,” it says.

The statement says police arrested Leblond at the Germantown Transit Station and transported him to the Montgomery County Police Major Crimes Division for an interview, where he was advised of his rights.

“Rico stated he didn’t know where the town of Gaithersburg was located or where Lake Forest Mall was and stated he had never been there,” the statement says.

Leblond, who was charged with first-degree murder, was being held without bond since his arrest. He was scheduled to appear in court in Rockville on Monday.

Court records show he has a prior record of several criminal charges filed against him, including assault, robbery, theft and trespassing.

“It’s clear that this was an absolutely premeditated murder,” Capt. Darren Francke, commander of the Montgomery County Police Major Crimes Division, told the Washington Post. “Leblond sought out the victim and killed her,” the Post quoted him as saying.

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy, who serves as the county’s chief prosecutor, told the Post his office and detectives were investigating whether Leblond’s motive for the murder was solely anti-transgender bias or whether it was linked to his relationship with Ziona.

A candlelight vigil at the site of the murder in remembrance of Ziona’s life was scheduled to take place Sunday night. Among those expected to participate in the vigil were members of Ziona’s family, including her mother, who have said their love and admiration of her did not waiver earlier this year when she began to transition.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

8 Comments
  • This is a horrible tragedy and illustrates the dangers of toxic masculinity and transphobic rhetoric

    • I think you are thinking too deeply. These are thugs and it would not have taking much for them to kill. This leaves me to wonder if they had used the gun in the past.

      • I hesitate to use the term thug, even if you didn’t mean it to be, it is racially charged and carries connotation that you are commenting on their race or socio economic class.

        • Lets just say the killer was ignorant but was also of lower socio economic class and hung out with this type of demographic. Btw,Thug is defined as a violent person, especially a criminal. Don’t try to overthink things. The answer is simple. Most violent crime comes from the lower poor sect of society.

          • No violence is greater than the violence inherent to capitalist exploitation. That the suits ues a cell phone and bribes to rob us or enslave people around the world doesn’t mean what they do isn’t violent.

            Poverty exists because the owners of this country, the rich allow it to exist.

          • WOW—right on!! its refreshing to finally hear some sanity

      • To Jason : ur an ass. I’m lower economical I would never think of killing anyone in cold blood By the way I’m trans and poor.

      • Trans people are often considered not-people, by less-enlightened members of society.
        They are of course encouraged to think that by elite members of society, for the purpose of division and fund-raising rhetoric.
        If you’re still confused about this, Jason, I can start sending you the comments that I have gotten over the year or so I’ve been out as a transwoman. I’m fairly positive you have never seen anything like it.

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