Trans homicide defendant now in federal custody, attorney confirms

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Friday January 12, 2024
Share this Post:
A hearing was held in federal court in San Francisco January 12 for a transgender woman accused of second-degree murder. Photo: John Ferrannini
A hearing was held in federal court in San Francisco January 12 for a transgender woman accused of second-degree murder. Photo: John Ferrannini

The transgender woman who has pleaded not guilty to charges of killing a man at San Francisco's Crissy Field in November is being held by federal authorities, her attorney confirmed to the Bay Area Reporter.

Leion Butler, 20, appeared at the federal courthouse at 450 Golden Gate Avenue on Friday. Her attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender David Rizk, confirmed she is in the custody of the United States Marshals Service after the hearing.

The marshals neither confirmed nor denied Butler was in its custody before the B.A.R.'s last report. Rizk had complained at a December hearing that Butler had been held by the San Francisco Sheriff's Department in an all-male facility and Magistrate Judge Alex G. Tse ordered the marshals to respond to remediate those concerns, but the service told the B.A.R. late last year it wouldn't say if that meant she had been transferred to them.

The B.A.R. also asked Rizk if Butler would be interested in an interview; Rizk told the B.A.R. he would ask her later January 12.

The housing matter was the first issue to come up at Friday's hearing in the courtroom of District Court Judge Susan Illston, who asked Rizk, "Is the defendant's housing OK?"

Responded Rizk: "Yeah. Thanks for asking."

The hearing was a regularly scheduled status conference. Butler is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Hamza Walupupu, 32, on November 12 at Crissy Field. A former United States Army airfield and part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the location bumps the prosecution up from the state to the federal court system.

According to a federal memorandum in support of keeping Butler in custody, Butler told police in an interview after her arrest that she was working as a sex worker the night of November 12 when Walupupu allegedly approached her. After performing oral sex on Walupupu, he wanted a refund after she revealed she was transgender, the memorandum continues.

Butler refused and then shot Walupupu and took his car to Hunters Point, where she wiped it down of fingerprints, and then abandoned it, according to the memorandum. Police later found the car because it'd been double-parked for three days.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelsey Davidson said that the two sides are close to coming to an agreement on the deadlines needed to get to before trial, which is tentatively set for April 15.

Davidson, Rizk, and Illston agreed to tentatively set another check-in for Friday, February 2, but concurred that if Davidson and Rizk come to an agreement on the scheduling matters first it will be canceled.

During the hearing, Rizk illustrated some of the matters that he and Davidson have had trouble seeing eye-to-eye on. Among them, the cutoff point for the government to file new charges.

"I'm concerned that they might file some sort of obstruction charge so I need assurance if that's something the defense has to prepare for," he said, adding it would be burdensome if there were two trials because new charges came too late in time for the homicide case.

"It's well within the court's discretion to put a cap on the charges," he said.

Responded Illston: "I think I'll do that. I would be worried. This is such a speedy case I would be concerned."

Rizk also asked for an earlier time for evidence and witness lists to be finished — six to seven weeks before the trial, to be specific. Davidson argued that's too soon.

"That's just very early, considering how quick this case has moved," she said.

Responded Rizk: "This isn't a simple gun case — this is a homicide case. It's routine in complicated cases where the stakes are significant to have an early deadline for witness lists."

Illston agreed to have an early deadline for witnesses, but a later one for evidence.

Davidson asked Illston to invoke the supremacy clause of the United States Constitution. Article 6, paragraph No. 2 of the Constitution states that the Constitution, and federal law generally, trumps state laws. The issue in question is the release of Butler's juvenile records, which the state cannot disseminate under state laws.

Illston agreed this is a concern.

"I have a civil case involving them. We've been waiting two years now," the judge said, referring to an unrelated matter. "If it would help to have a court order they be produced, I'd be happy to do that."

Responded Davidson: "Your honor has the authority to do so."

Never miss a story! Keep up to date on the latest news, arts, politics, entertainment, and nightlife. Sign up for the Bay Area Reporter's free weekday email newsletter. You'll receive our newsletters and special offers from our community partners.

Support California's largest LGBTQ newsroom. Your one-time, monthly, or annual contribution advocates for LGBTQ communities. Amplify a trusted voice providing news, information, and cultural coverage to all members of our community, regardless of their ability to pay -- Donate today!