A California man who was charged with brutally killing a trans woman has dodged a prison sentence for first-degree murder by accepting a plea deal.
Back in 2015, Richard Joseph Lopez of Fresno was arrested in connection with the murder of 66-year-old KC Haggard, a transgender woman, reports The Sacramento Bee. Originally, he pleaded not guilty to his charge of first-degree murder; however, when he pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter in court this week, Lopez was ultimately sentenced to only 23 years in prison.
If Lopez had been convicted of first-degree murder, he’d have to serve at least 51 years before becoming eligible for parole. Now, he could be eligible in as few as 17 years.
#UPDATE in transgender killing: Richard Lopez took a plea deal, admitted to voluntary manslaughter of Fresno’s KC Haggard.
He’ll serve 23 years in prison — 11 for manslaughter, doubled for previous strike, plus 1 for using knife.
— Corin Hoggard (@corinhoggard) March 13, 2019
Local LGBTQ advocates who knew Haggard were shocked and saddened by the sentence, which they claim represents the injustices trans people face nationwide in the criminal justice system. It’s especially egregious given the brutality of Haggard’s death: Video footage from a tattoo parlor near the crime scene showed her killer drive up to her and stab her in the throat.
“It’s as if trans people are disposable,” Kat Fobear, a board member of Fresno’s Trans-E-Motion advocacy group, told The Bee.
Meanwhile, Lopez’s lawyer Greg Gross maintains his client’s innocence. “He wanted to protect himself from a life sentence,” Gross told The Bee, confirming his motive behind changing his plea.
Haggard was one of at least 18 trans women of color who lost their lives to hate-motivated violence in 2015. Since then, numbers of reported homicides of trans victims have increased. In 2018 alone, at least 25 transgender Americans were killed—and like Haggard, most were also trans women of color.