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News > Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico: Killing of Trans Women to Trial as Hate Crime

  • Serena Angelique Velazquez and Layla Pelaez Sanchez, Puerto Rico, 2020.

    Serena Angelique Velazquez and Layla Pelaez Sanchez, Puerto Rico, 2020. | Photo: Twitter/ @cfraticelliT2

Published 7 May 2020

The defendants shot their victims to death and set fire to their corpses inside an abandoned car.

In June, Puerto Rico's authorities may evaluate whether the murder of two transgender women makes up a case of femicide, a legal figure that would enter the Island's jurisprudence for the first time. ​

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Under the 2009 Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA), authorities opened a case against the two alleged killers, Sean Diaz de Leon and Juan Pagan, and submitted the accusation to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for the inquiring process.

"This is the first time that circumstances, which could raise violations to the HCPA, are included as part of the allegations in an indictment," said Lymarie Llovet, the spokeswoman of the U.S. Attorney’s Office at the District of Puerto Rico.

On April 21, the defendants met Serena Velazquez and Layla Pelaez in a house at Las Piedras town. Once they realized that they were transwomen, they shot them to death and left the corpses in an abandoned car, which was subsequently set on fire.​​​​

 "Alexa's murder  caused a deep shock in Puerto Rico and has brought to the table the climate of hate that trans women face."

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a U.S.-foundation that advocates for the wellbeing of the LGBTQ people, expressed concern about the murder of Velazquez and Pelaez.

"HRC is mourning alongside the loved ones of Serena and Layla, the people of Puerto Rico and the transgender community. Serena and Layla, like us all, had family, dreams, hopes - and they did not deserve to die,” the HRC Community Engagement Director Tori Cooper said.

“Transgender and gender non-conforming people, especially women of color, are too often the victims of a toxic mix of transphobia, racism, and misogyny. People and policy must work together to protect our lives," the HRC activist added.

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