Arrest made in Md. slaying
Man was ‘embarrassed’ by victim, police say
The killing of a 21-year-old transgender woman in Montgomery County last week stemmed from a simmering dispute with the suspect, who recently felt “embarrassed” after the victim approached him in a shopping mall in front of his friends, according to police charging papers filed Saturday.
Rico Hector LeBlond, 20, appears to have plotted his attack, police alleged, by donning a monster mask over half of his face, hiding behind a dumpster and shooting Zella Ziona, who also was known as DeAndre Smith.
After Ziona was hit, “the suspect walked over to her, stood over her and fired more rounds into her body,” detectives wrote. The victim “suffered gunshot wounds to the head and groin area,” they said.
Detectives charged LeBlond, who
has an extensive arrest record, with first-degree murder, which is punish able by life in prison.
It is unclear if Maryland hate crime laws apply in the case. Detectives did not immediately file them but have not ruled out doing so, Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said Saturday.
“The most important thing is we got this guy off the street,” Manger said. “This is still a very active investigation.”
Montgomery State’s Attorney John McCarthy, the top prosecutor in the county, said his office and detectives are looking into whether LeBlond acted solely on a bias linked to gender identity or sexual orientation, or whether the crime had more to do with his relationship with the victim .“As part of the investigation, we’ re looking into the existing relationship between these two individuals to determine what the motive was ,” he said.
Detectives continue to speak with witnesses and consult with prosecutors about any additional charges, Manger said. “This was a horrific crime,” he added.
“It’s clear to us this was an absolutely premeditated murder,” said Capt. Darren Francke, commander of Montgomery’s major crimes divi- sion. “LeBlond sought out the victim and killed her.”
Ziona, a graduate of Seneca Valley High School, was a talented artist who liked to draw and sing. She recently worked as a caregiver at an assisted-living facility, according to court papers .“We welcomed him for who he was,” his mother, Tyshika Smith said. “He was a beautiful boy, a beautiful girl.”
According to the charging papers, LeBlond and Ziona had a friendship and LeBlond was “very upset” when people found out, detectives wrote.
Tension grew when Le Blond was recently at Lake forest Mall and Zion a approached him and began “acting flamboyantly towards Le according to police charging papers. Detectives wrote that LeBlond was “greatly embarrassed” by the interaction, which occurred while he was with “his crew .”
On Thursday, according to the document, Ziona and another person ran into LeBlond in the Montgomery Village area. Shortly after 5 p.m ., police got a call that a group of men were fighting with a stick and a knife in that area. Detectives now say that Ziona was being assaulted by someone with a stick and that the incident may have been an effort to lure her into an alley to fight.
A witness, whom police did not identify, was only a few feet away when Ziona was shot. Authorities said in the charging papers that many of the events, though not the shooting, were captured on surveillance video.
It was not clear from court records if LeBlond had retained an attorney. He was being held without bond and is expected to make his first court appearance on Monday.
LeBlond has been previously charged with crimes, including for assault, robbery and theft. He has a Tuesday trial date scheduled in a trespassing case. Lawyers who have represented him in past cases could not immediately be reached to comment.
LeBlond — who for years has lived just outside Gaithersburg, Md. — said little when questioned by detectives Friday night.
“Rico stated he didn’t know where the town of Gaithersburg was located or where Lakeforest Mall was, and stated he had never been there,” detectives wrote.
The arrest came as a relief to Ziona’s friends and family.
“It can’t bring my nephew back, but it’s a little easier knowing this person has been arrested and he can’t hurt anyone else,” said Jeron Jackson, an uncle .“We just pray that justice is served.”