Montgomery County gang member found guilty in killing of transgender woman

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A 22-year-old gang member was convicted Tuesday for the 2015 shooting death of a transgender woman in Gaithersburg.

Rico LeBlond was convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of 21-year-old Zella Ziona after she was shot in a service alley at the Montgomery Village shopping center nearby Lakeforest Mall.

Investigators did not try the case as a hate crime. They say LeBlond and Ziona had known each other since they were kids and may have had an intimidate relationship. Months before the murder, Ziona transitioned from a male to a female.

According to court documents, before the killing Ziona had acted "flamboyantly towards LeBlond and greatly embarrassed LeBlond in front of his peers."

Prosecutors say LeBlond is part of the Hit Squad, a gang based in Montgomery County. They say he and others lured Ziona into the alley.

"There were up to seven or eight members of the Hit Squad laying in wait," said Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy.

Ziona knew she may be in trouble the day she died. Prosecutors say her mother worked near the alley and that Ziona had told her mother there was going to be a fight.

"She followed her son into the alleyway trying to convince her son not to engage in any kind of fight," said Patrick Mays, deputy chief of the Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office. "And as she entered the top of the alleyway, she witnessed the execution of her own son."

The mother called 911, gasping for breath.

"I'm sorry they just shot my son. Some kids just shot my son," she said to the dispatcher.

LeBlond's first trial in January was declared a mistrial after the jury deadlocked. But a new jury in Montgomery County found him guilty on Tuesday after a weeklong trial.

The Germantown man is facing life in prison and will be sentenced on Oct. 19.