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Fresno Man Charged in '15 Killing of Trans Woman

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Richard Joseph Lopez
Richard Joseph Lopez  (Source:Courtesy Fresno County Sheriff's office)

A man was charged this week in the 2015 killing of a transgender Fresno woman.

Richard Joseph Lopez, 38, of Fresno, was set to be arraigned Wednesday on a murder charge in the death of K.C. Haggard, 66, the Fresno County District Attorney's office announced.

Haggard, of Fresno, was seen on surveillance video from a tattoo shop walking down North Blackstone Avenue early in the morning of July 23, 2015.

In the video, an SUV drove toward Haggard and stopped near her. Haggard walked over to the vehicle and appeared to talk for a few moments with someone inside. After someone jabbed at her throat, Haggard walked away and collapsed on the sidewalk. She was soon pronounced dead.

At a news conference Monday to announce Lopez's arrest, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said that an investigation led them to Lopez, who was already in Fresno County Jail on unrelated elder abuse and auto theft charges.

Police and prosecutors decided to wait until Lopez was sentenced in that case before trying to interview him. Monday, Lopez was sentenced to three years in prison for elder abuse, but he "chose to have an attorney present prior to making any statements" in the Haggard case, said Dyer.

Dyer mixed pronouns when he spoke of Haggard, and referred to her by what authorities said was her legal name.

He said that police haven't yet determined "the true motive for what prompted this murder. However, based on the evidence in this case, along with the statements of those interviewed, we strongly suspect that Kenton Haggard was murdered due to his or her sexual orientation of being transgender."

Dyer continued, "The reason I said 'his or her,' we have family members that have asked that Kenton Haggard be referred to as 'Mr. Haggard,' but we also have members of the transgender community that have demanded that Kenton Haggard be identified as 'Miss' or female."

In an interview Tuesday, Gerald Haggard, 65, K.C. Haggard's brother, told the Bay Area Reporter that he felt "relief" that a suspect's been arrested.

"This was a violent act on an individual, and I was afraid it might happen to somebody else, plus, I do want justice for the taking of my brother," said Haggard, who expressed gratitude for trans advocates.

"The memorials for Kenton from the transgender community helped keep the spotlight on this," he said. "It's been a long time, and it was discouraging."
Explaining why he referred to K.C. Haggard as male, he said, "It's as much habit as anything else. That was our relationship for 65 years."

The Fresno group Trans-E-Motion previously shared with the B.A.R. a photo of a support group sign-in sheet where Haggard, who was wearing women's clothing when she was killed, had signed in as "Kenton (Casey) Haggard." The criminal complaint against Lopez lists her name as "Kenton Craig Haggard."

Along with the murder charge, Lopez, who's being held in Fresno County Jail, also faces an allegation of assault with a deadly weapon - the knife allegedly used to kill Haggard. Prosecutors haven't included a hate crime allegation.

Fresno's KFSN TV has the video of Dyer's news conference on its website: https://goo.gl/9Zu5Yu .

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