2020 | Courts

Man sentenced to 35 years in prison for killing woman in 2015

He pleaded guilty last month to first-degree murder

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A man who pleaded guilty to killing a woman in Gaithersburg nearly five years ago was sentenced Tuesday to 35 years in prison.

Rico Leblond, now 25, pleaded guilty last month to killing 21-year-old Zella Ziona near Gaithersburg’s Lakeforest Mall nearly five years ago.

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy told reporters last month after Leblond’s plea hearing that the shooting was related to an “ongoing beef” between two gang factions in Montgomery Village.

Montgomery County police said at the time that on Oct. 15, 2015, they were called to 18312 Contour Road in Gaithersburg and found Ziona with multiple gunshot wounds. She was taken to the hospital and later died, according to charging documents.

Police said the events started that day when Ziona was attacked by a male with a stick. The attacker was part of a group of males who were fighting near the Lakeforest Transit Center. Police said they think the fight preceded the shooting.

Leblond shot Ziona once, then fired more shots into her body, police said.

According to charging documents, a witness told police that Leblond and Ziona were friends and had a dispute. In a previous incident, Leblond was “with his crew” and became embarrassed when Ziona “acted flamboyantly.”

Leblond was charged with first-degree murder and pleaded guilty on Aug. 6.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Leblond apologized to Ziona’s family and said he was “self-centered” five years ago.

“This is one of many steps for me to grow,” he said.

The 35-year-sentence was in line with sentencing guidelines, prosecutors said during the hearing. Leblond’s defense team had argued for 25 years in prison.

Montgomery County Circuit Judge Debra Dwyer, before issuing a sentence, told Leblond that it was clear the killing was premediated and that he lured Ziona into a fight.

“You have admitted your role in a first-degree murder that in my mind is nothing short of an ambush,” she said. “It is cold-blooded. It is premeditated. And it was entirely unnecessary.”

Dwyer’s sentence also includes five years of supervised probation for Leblond after he is released.

She recommended at the request of Lebond’s attorneys that he be placed in the Patuxent Institute in Jessup if he is eligible. The maximum-security facility prison offers mental health treatment to inmates.

Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office, said in a statement Tuesday that the sentencing is the “first step toward healing” for Ziona’s family and friends.

“While this sentence will not bring Zella back it will serve as a deterrent for others in the community who might resort to violence in their effort to resolve disputes,” he said.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com