Montgomery County man pleads guilty in killing of transgender woman

The family of a transgender woman shot to death in Montgomery County is finally getting some closure.

It’s a case that has played out for the last five years – including a hung jury and an overturned conviction. On Thursday, the suspect pleaded guilty.

RELATED: Montgomery County gang member found guilty in killing of transgender woman

In October 2015, Zella Ziona was lured into an alley behind Lakeforest Mall on Contour Road in Gaithersburg. 

FOX 5's Ayesha Khan reports Ziona’s mother warned her not to go into the alley where there was already a fight happening. Then, she saw Ziona get shot to death. Her mother was the one who called 911.

This case has dragged on for the past five years because 25-year-old Rico LeBlond was tried twice in connection with the shooting.

The first trial ended with a hung jury, The second time, LeBlond was convicted by a Montgomery County jury and sentenced to life in prison, but an appeals court overturned the conviction.

Today, LeBlond pleaded guilty to first-degree murder as part of a plea agreement that would avoid having a third trial. The plea deal came at the request of the victim’s family. 

Court documents say Ziona and LeBlond had known each other since middle school.

A number of different motives were examined for what led to the killing. Prosecutors at one time said LeBlond was embarrassed when Ziona flirted with him in front of his friends, but Montgomery County States Attorney John McCarthy said that the motive was a gang turf dispute.

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Ziona’s family, including her mother, were in the courtroom today even though they have since moved away from Montgomery County —they declined our request for an interview.

“They are relieved to have this part of it over and they were also relieved to have Mr. LeBlond in their presence in the courtroom take responsibility for ending the life of their brother and their son," said McCarthy.

LeBlond is currently being held without bond in Montgomery County —his sentencing is scheduled for September 15.