Trial date set for trans defendant in federal homicide case

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Friday February 23, 2024
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A late August date has been determined for jury selection in the federal case of Leion Butler, who's charged with killing a man at Crissy Field last November. Photo: John Ferrannini
A late August date has been determined for jury selection in the federal case of Leion Butler, who's charged with killing a man at Crissy Field last November. Photo: John Ferrannini

A trial date for a transgender woman who has pleaded not guilty to charges of killing a man at San Francisco's Crissy Field in November was set during a hearing at a federal courthouse Friday.

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston set jury selection in the trial of Leion Butler for the week of Monday, August 26, and the trial for the next week, which means the trial will start Tuesday, September 3, due to the Labor Day holiday.

This nixes earlier proposals for April or July trials.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelsey Davidson, who is prosecuting the case, said the government would take about a week for its presentation. Assistant Federal Public Defender David Rizk, who represents Butler, said his case should last about the same amount of time.

Initially, Rizk had lobbied Illston against the Labor Day week, fearing no-shows the day after the holiday due to vacation plans. He feared that only three days of the week would be usable for the prosecution's case.

However, Rizk did not think the defense would be ready by August 19, the other date Illston proposed.

"If it's just three days that week, we'll go forward," Illston said.

Rizk brought up the fact that there are two other trials on Illston's calendar for later in September.

"I will move them — I want to give this a date I can honor," Illston said.

Davidson said that the prosecution will be presenting a number of "fairly standard experts" in its case, including DNA, ballistics, and blood spatter specialists.

All parties also agreed to a pre-trial conference on August 13.

The case

Butler, 20, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Hamza Walupupu, 32, on November 12 at Crissy Field. A former U.S. Army airfield that's now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the location bumps the prosecution up from the state to the federal court system.

As the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, according to a federal memorandum in support of keeping Butler in custody, Butler told police in an interview after her arrest that she was engaged in sex work the night of November 12 when Walupupu allegedly approached her.

That place was Crissy Field. When the pair got there, Butler performed oral sex on Walupupu, prosecutors state.

"Afterwards, the victim said he wanted more, and the defendant told the victim that she was transgender," the document states. "The victim demanded his money back, and the defendant refused. She believed she had earned the money, explaining, 'there's no money back ... I was never giving [the money] back to him.' They argued, and the victim demanded that the defendant get out of his car. The defendant felt disrespected and refused. The defendant explained that if she had gotten out of the car, she would have been 'stranded cold as fuck' and looked 'dumb as fuck.'"

Butler refused to give the refund 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. Butler called her mother, who advised her to destroy evidence, the government alleges. Police later found the car because it'd been double-parked for three days.

A December court filing from the U.S. Attorney's office states that Butler "repeatedly discussed murdering the victim and continued to show no remorse for doing so" on the phone earlier that month. It was not stated if Butler knew she was being recorded.

"In one conversation, the defendant was speaking to an unnamed person on the phone," the filing states. "The two of them discussed writing a letter in support of her release. The unnamed person suggested that the defendant say she felt sorry for what happened. The defendant responded, 'Say that. Say that I apologize to anyone I hurt, but my life was in danger, and I felt like I had to defend myself in that moment or it would have been me.'"

Butler's mother, Leslie Blueford, previously told the B.A.R. that she's taking things "one day at a time." While Blueford said that she could not discuss details of her daughter's case, on the advice of Rizk, she did say that Butler was doing better now that she's been transferred to the San Francisco County Jail at 850 Bryant Street.

During the interview, which was held after a court hearing earlier this month, Blueford said that initially Butler had been housed at Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County (where federal defendants are typically held). But she is now being housed at the city jail after Butler was returned to the custody of the United States Marshals Service, said Blueford.

In Santa Rita Butler had been in a "two-man cell," but now in San Francisco "can walk around," said Blueford, because it's a more "open" environment.

"They had her locked up in a cell all these weeks, but she's not anymore so she's doing better," said Blueford.

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