In Fresno transgender murder case, why no hate crime charges?

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The man accused of killing a transgender woman in Fresno has pleaded not guilty in court on Wednesday. (KFSN)

When Richard Joseph Lopez entered his not guilty plea Wednesday, he denied both the murder of KC Haggard, and an enhancement for using a knife.

Surveillance video from a nearby tattoo shop showed Haggard walking up to an SUV, leaning in for a conversation, and then a knife reaching out and slashing her throat.

Haggard was dressed as a woman and Legal Analyst Tony Capozzi says the video makes gender confusion a likely motive for the crime.

"It appears to me that he saw what he thought was not a woman and based on gender identity, he killed her," Capozzi.

On Wednesday, Lopez did not have to deny committing the crime out of hate, and that's bothering some members of the LGBTQ community.

Emily Cameron told me "not filing hate crime charges against Lopez sends a dangerous message that violence against LGBTQ people will not be taken seriously."

California state law makes the death sentence a possible punishment for hate crime murders, but not when the hate is directed at a person's sexual orientation.

A felony enhancement for a sexual orientation hate crime could still add up to three years to the punishment. Capozzi says prosecutors could still add a hate crime enhancement to the charges against Lopez.

"They're going to interview the driver of the car and that person, whoever he or she may be, may shed some light on whether or not this was a hate crime, or whether or not this was pre-planned. Did they know this person?" said Capozzi.
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