A man who killed a transgender woman in October 2015 has been sentenced to 35 years in prison.
After Rico LeBlond's first trial ended in a hung jury and the second in a guilty verdict that was then overturned on an appeal, Tuesday's sentencing wraps up a five-year legal battle in Montgomery County.
Prosecutors say LeBlond grew angry that Zella Ziona, 21, got the upper hand on him in a fist fight and then lured his long-time acquaintance to an alley behind a Gaithersburg, Maryland, shopping center, where he shot her.
Friends who knew Ziona say she was generous and loving, even to those who didn't deserve it. They remember her as strong and self-protective, as a woman navigating a world that no longer knew her by her old identity.
"Thirty-five years is a substantial amount of time to think about what he's done," said Montgomery County state's attorney spokesman Ramon Korionoff. "Hopefully today's sentence will be the first step on the road to healing for the friends and family of Zella Ziona."
LeBlond, who is now 25, told the judge he's become a different man after spending the past five years in prison. He apologized to Ziona's family.
"Mr. LeBlond accepted his responsibility in this matter and gave a very impassioned speech that the court took great note of," said defense attorney Dave Felsen.
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The judge said she would recommend LeBlond serve his sentence at the Patuxent Institution, a treatment-oriented prison, but was not sure he would qualify.