The family of a transgender woman who was killed at a motel in Baldwin Park spoke out Friday at the sentencing of the man accused in her murder.
Stephen Justin Gonzales was sentenced to 25 year to life for allegedly strangulating and bludgeoning Melony Smith, 26, to death on Sept. 9, 2013 inside her motel room.
Smith's sister, Lisa Inthickack, and mother were both at Pomona Courthouse when Gonzales was sentenced.
"My family will always love her no matter what, though she made the decision to work in the industry she did," Smith's sister told the courtroom.
Smith left home at 16-year-old when her family didn't understand why she dressed and identified herself as a woman. Smith lived off and on inside a motel room.
Evidence showed Melony Smith was hit in the head with a boombox radio before being strangled with a bed sheet. A motive or relationship was never determined.
"I think she deserves more justice than this. The guy needs to have at least life in prison," said Corina Samala, a transgender advocate.
During his sentencing, Gonzales turned to the gallery and addressed Smith's family.
"I'm not an animal or a murderer. But I understand your feelings towards me. I don't need your forgiveness. The Lord took care of that. It was a tragic accident. I'm sorry," he said.
Among supporters who came to the courthouse were members of the transgender community.
"This was the right justice and we're so glad everybody in the jury really understood the emotions of trans people, and not to take it lightly," said transgender advocate Celia San Dhaya said.
Smith's mother said she has now buried three of her own children, which she described as a living nightmare.
She said no matter what they do, she would not be happy because nothing can bring Smith back.