Man found guilty of murdering Maryland transgender woman

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MONTGOMERY CO., Md. - After a five-day trial, a jury found a Germantown man guilty of killing a transgender woman.

Rico Leblond, 22 was convicted by a jury today for the first degree murder of Zella Ziona, 21, also known as Deandre Smith, back in October of 2015.

Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Anne Albright declared a mistrial for this case in January.

"The issue I believe was not presence at the scene it was who was the one that pulled the trigger," says David Felsen, Leblond's lawyer. "We respect the jury's service, but we are disappointed."

Montgomery County State's Attorney, John McCarthy, says they have video evidence that proves that.

After the conviction, the State's Attorney's office released surveillance video that they say shows Leblond wearing a light blue jacket in the moments before the murder.

Approximately 30 minutes after the murder, McCarthy says there is video surveillance of Leblond in different clothing, including shoes that are visibly too big for him.

"He attempted to change his appearance so that if anyone had seen the murder he would not be dressed in the same fashion," he says.

McCarthy's office also released the chilling 911 call from Ziona's mom. They say she knew Ziona was going to be involved in a fight and followed her.

Prosecutors believe that Leblond and Ziona were known to be friends for a long time, and prior to the murder the two had argued.

Charging documents show that a witness told police that Leblond was upset when it became public that the two were friends.

The witness told police that in the past, Leblond was with his friends, when Ziona approached his group and "began acting flamboyantly" and "greatly embrassed Leblond" in front of his peers.

McCarthy said on Tuesday that they explored that fully to determine a motivating factor but could not substantiate it.

"People were concerned about whether or not this was a hate crime, so were we," he says.

McCarthy did definitively say on Tuesday that Leblond is a validated member, per Montgomery County Police, of the gang "Hit Squad."

His office feels that with the help of others, Leblond lured Ziona into an alleyway for a fight using sticks and knives where she was later shot multiple times.

"This is another instance of gang-involved violence in Montgomery County," he says.

McCarthy's office also released several pictures discovered on Leblond's phone of him holding weapons and displaying tattoos.

"These were weapons that he was well familiar with and to a certain extent they characterize the kind of thug life that Mr. Leblond was leading in Gaithersburg," he says.

When asked about the Hit Squad, Felsen said there was "no evidence of that" during the trial.

McCarthy says in the past ten years there have been eighteen murders in Montgomery County involving gangs and at least three of them involved the Hit Squad.

He says he's brought up the issue to city council and the County Executive in the hopes that they can get more resources to try to track down gang leaders and intervene in schools.

"We need to change our focus and how we investigate gang crimes," he says. "We can no longer wait until the body falls in the street."

Leblond will be sentenced on October 19th, facing the penalty of life in prison.

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