Richard Joseph Lopez, the man accused of brutally stabbing and killing a transgender woman as she walked down Blackstone Avenue, pleaded not guilty to murder in Fresno County Superior Court on Wednesday.
Fresno police arrested Lopez on Monday. He has several previous criminal convictions, including car theft, drug and weapons charges.
Kenton “KC” Haggard, 66, was murdered on July 23, 2015. Surveillance video captured by a nearby tattoo parlor showed Haggard stagger along Blackstone after the passenger in a silver SUV stabbed her in the throat.
On Monday, Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer said that physical evidence found in Lopez’s car and testimony from those who knew him led to Lopez being identified as the killer.
The Fresno County District Attorney’s opted not to file a hate-crime enhancement – something discussed and investigated by Fresno police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation – against Lopez. The enhancement could have added several years to Lopez’s sentence, if he is convicted. However a conviction on the murder charge heard in court Wednesday could lead to a life sentence – even without the hate-crime designation.
The district attorney’s office typically doesn’t comment on any specifics until a case is resolved, but Assistant District Attorney Steve Wright offered some clarification on Tuesday as to why his office did not seek a hate-crime enhancement. (An earlier version of this story erroneously reported that Wright is a deputy district attorney.)
“We can only file charges based on the evidence,” Wright said. “Our office is not afraid to file that type of enhancement when it’s warranted and when evidence supports it, but we have to base our filing decisions based on the evidence that comes to light during the investigation.”
Lopez is scheduled to appear in court on Feb. 28. He remains in Fresno County Jail, where he is serving a three-year sentence for an unrelated car theft conviction.