California man gets maximum sentence for fatally stabbing transgender woman

The man convicted of fatally stabbing a transgender woman in the throat was sentenced to a maximum of 23 years in prison Wednesday in Fresno County Superior Court.

Richard Joseph Lopez avoided a life sentence earlier this year by pleading no contest to voluntary manslaughter in the 2015 killing of Kenton Craig “K.C.” Haggard. The 66-year-old was stabbed by Lopez as she walked down Blackstone Avenue in 2015. Lopez also waived his right to appeal as part of the plea deal.

Upon sentencing, Judge Michael G. Idiart noted the “great violence and great bodily harm” Lopez inflicted upon Haggard. Idiart said he believed Lopez posed a great threat to the community.

Haggard’s death shocked her friends and many in Fresno’s LGBTQ community. Gerald Clarke Haggard, the victim’s brother, said he’s happy that Lopez — “a violent man without a conscience” — is “off the streets.”

Gerald Haggard described K.C. Haggard as “a gentle man, a trusting man who was able to be taken advantage of. It’s a great loss for our family. He has become a martyr for the transgender (community). To me, he was my big brother.”

The horrific crime was captured on surveillance video from a nearby tattoo parlor. It showed someone in a silver SUV driving up next to Haggard and then stabbing her in the throat.

She staggered after the attack, collapsing on the street. Police later found her slumped against a sidewalk pole.

If Lopez had been found guilty of first-degree murder, he would have had to serve at least 51 years before being eligible for parole. Under the voluntary manslaughter charge, Lopez could be eligible for parole in 17 years.

Gerald Haggard said he never agreed with the voluntary manslaughter plea. “To me, my brother was murdered,” he said.

Zoyer Zyndel, chair of Trans-E-Motion in Fresno, said he was grateful Lopez received the maximum sentence but it’s disheartening knowing Lopez will eventually be up for parole. Zyndel also was disappointed the case wasn’t classified as a hate crime.

Since Haggard’s death, transgender people in Fresno felt a heightened sense of “terror,” Zyndel said. “This is not the first trans murder, and this will not be the last trans murder, unfortunately,” he said.

“…I always think back to the fact that we could not get to see her continue her life living it authentically. We could not get to see the woman she would continue to evolve into, and it’s because her life was tragically taken from her,” Zyndel said. “We move forward by remembering why it’s important to raise awareness and remembering that she did not die in vain.”

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Brianna Calix covers politics and investigations for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.