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Two Men Indicted for Murders of Transgender Women in Puerto Rico

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The suspects are charged with murdering Serena Angelique Velazquez and Layla Pelaez after discovering the women were trans.

A federal grand jury Wednesday indicted two men for the murders of two transgender women in Puerto Rico last month.

Sean Diaz De Leon and Juan Carlos Pagan Bonilla are charged with murder, using a firearm in relation to crimes of violence, carjacking resulting in death, and destruction of property using explosive materials, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for Puerto Rico. They had already been charged under federal hate-crimes law in connection with the deaths of Serena Angelique Velazquez and Layla Pelaez.

Velazquez and Pelaez (pictured below, left to right) were shot to death the night of April 21 in Humacao, and their car then was set on fire. Police found their bodies in the burned-out car the next day. The women were visiting from New York City. (Story continues below photo.)

Puerto Rico

The suspects, who were arrested April 29, told an FBI agent they had had sexual relations with the women and then learned the women were transgender, according to an FBI affidavit. The suspects said they were angry and felt they had been "tricked," the agent reports.

This is the first time the LGBTQ-inclusive federal hate-crimes law, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, has been used in Puerto Rico, according to the Washington Blade.

The men would be eligible for the death penalty if convicted. LGBTQ activists in Puerto Rico have urged that the death sentence not be applied, however, the Blade reports.

At least two other trans people have died by violence in Puerto Rico this year. In February, Alexa Negron Luciano, a homeless trans woman, was shot to death in the Puerto Rican town of Toa Baja, hours after being reported to police for using a women's restroom at a McDonald's. In March, trans man Yampi Mendez Arocho was fatally shot in another town in the territory, Moca. Activists say at least 10 LGBTQ people have been murdered in Puerto Rico in the past 15 months.

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