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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

2 men plead guilty in attack on transgender woman who was later found dead

A photo provided by the FBI shows Alexa Negrón Luciano, who was found dead hours after several men attacked her with a paintball gun and recorded the incident in Toa Baja, in February 2020. (FBI via The New York Times)

By Amanda Holpuch

Two men linked to an attack with a paintball gun on a transgender woman in Toa Baja pleaded guilty earlier this week to conspiracy to commit a hate crime. The case prompted an outcry on the island after the victim was found dead just hours after video of the assault was recorded.

The killing of the woman, Alexa Negrón Luciano, in February 2020 remains unsolved, and no one has been charged in her death, though it brought renewed attention to violence against gay and transgender people in Puerto Rico. The FBI is seeking information from the public to help with the investigation.

On Monday, Jordany Rafael Laboy García and Christian Yamaurie Rivera Otero pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court in San Juan to conspiracy to commit a hate crime and obstruction of justice in connection with the assault, Justice Department officials said.

On Feb. 23, 2020, someone posted photographs on social media that showed Negrón, who was 29 and homeless, being questioned by police after she had used the women’s bathroom at a McDonald’s in Toa Baja, according to the indictment.

The next day at about 12:29 a.m., Laboy García and Rivera Otero were in a vehicle when they saw Negrón standing under a tent on the side of the road in Toa Baja, the Justice Department said in a news release. A third man, Anthony Steven Lobos Ruiz, was also in the car.

Lobos Ruiz used an iPhone to record himself making “disparaging and threatening comments” to Negrón from inside the car, which included yelling “la loca, la loca,” or “the crazy woman, the crazy woman,” prosecutors said.

The men left and returned within 30 minutes with a paintball gun and recorded video of Laboy García firing paintballs at Negrón, prosecutors said.

Lobos Ruiz shared the videos with others, according to the Justice Department. Several hours later, he and Laboy García sent text messages to each other, agreeing to delete the videos to hide their involvement in the assault.

Negrón was found murdered on the side of the road in Toa Baja that same day.

The killing of Negrón received significant attention in Puerto Rico and beyond. Days after her death, Puerto Rican pop superstar Bad Bunny appeared on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” wearing a white T-shirt that said in Spanish, “They killed Alexa, not a man in a skirt.”

W. Stephen Muldrow, the U.S. attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, said in a statement that the Justice Department would “continue to vigorously defend the rights of all people, regardless of their gender identity, to be free from hate-fueled violence.”

“To assault an innocent victim who posed no threat to the defendants for no other reason than her gender identity is reprehensible behavior that will not be tolerated,” Muldrow said.

In November, Lobos Ruiz was sentenced to 33 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting others in the attempted assault of Negrón because she was transgender. He had admitted to obtaining the paintball gun to injure Negrón and to recording the assault on his iPhone and sharing the video with other people.

Lobos Ruiz was represented by the federal public defender’s office, which does not comment on cases. At Lobos Ruiz’s sentencing hearing, he said he was sorry for mocking Negrón, El Nuevo Día reported. “I am ashamed of myself and of what I was in my past,” Lobos Ruiz said in Spanish.

A sentencing hearing for Laboy García and Rivera Otero has not been scheduled.

Lawyers for the two men did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

There were 44 transgender or gender-nonconforming people killed across the United States in 2020, and six of them, including Negrón, were killed in Puerto Rico, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group for LGBTQ rights. Last year, at least 34 transgender or gender nonconforming people were killed across the United States, a vast majority of them Black, the Human Rights Campaign said in a report released in November.

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