Ar­rest made in Md. slay­ing

Man was ‘em­bar­rassed’ by vic­tim, po­lice say

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY DAN MORSE

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.”

Rico Le­Blond

Zella Ziona

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