Man sentenced for 2013 murder of transgender woman at Baldwin Park motel

0130_NWS_SGT-L-MOTEL

BALDWIN PARK >> A judge sentenced a West Covina man to more than a quarter-century in prison Thursday for the 2013 murder a transgender woman at a Baldwin Park motel, officials said.
A Pomona Superior Court jury convicted Stephen Gonzales, 30, of first-degree murder in January of the Sept. 9, 2013, beating death of 26-year-old Melody Smith at a motel in Baldwin Park where she had been staying. The victim was listed in coroner’s records under birth name of Vanhxay Inthichack.
At his sentencing Thursday, Pomona Superior Court Judge Robert Martinez sentenced Gonzales to 26 years to life in prison.
Prosecutors alleged Gonzales killed Smith during a robbery, according to Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani.
But the jury acquitted Gonzales of a robbery charge, and also found untrue the special circumstance allegation of murder during the coarse of a robbery, officials said. Gonzales was convicted of an additional count of petty theft.

PHOTO: Melody Smith (Courtesy)

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West Covina man convicted of murdering transgender woman at Baldwin Park motel

0130_NWS_SGT-L-MOTEL

BALDWIN PARK >> A jury Friday convicted a West Covina man of the murder of a 26-year-old transgender woman who was ound beaten to death in a Baldwin Park motel in 2013.
A Pomona Superior Court Jury found Stephen Gonzales, 30, guilty of the first-degree murder of the victim known to loved ones as Melony Smith. She was listed by coroner’s officials under birth name, Vanhxay Inthichack.
Smith’s body was found about 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 9, 2013, inside her room at a motel in the 13900 block of Francisquito Avenue in Baldwin Park, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s and coroner officials.
The jury found Gonzales not guilty of robbing Smith, though they did convict Gonzales of the lesser offense of petty theft, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.
The jury also did not find true the special circumstance allegation of murder during the commission of robbery, which would have made Gonzales eligible for capital punishment.
Despite the jury’s decision not to convict Gonzales of robbery, prosecutors believe that was motive in the killing, Ardalani said.
“Our office believes Gonzales wanted to rob the victim of her property,” Ardalani said.
Leticia Alvarado, who worked at the motel where Smith was staying on-and-off for about a year, said she became close friends with the “funny and outgoing” Smith, who she called, “sister.”
Smith, who moved away from home at age 16 because her family disapproved of her lifestyle, graduated Sierra Vista High School and worked for security company, Alvarado said shortly after the slaying.
Another friend of Smith’s, Misty Vale, said her friend had been saving up money to buy a car and planned to return to school to become a dental hygienist.
Gonzales faces a sentence of 25 years to life in state prison when he returns to court for sentencing Feb. 11, Ardalani said.

PHOTO: Melony Smith, 26. (Courtesy)

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