Monica Loera’s Killer Gets 20 Years

JonCasey Rowell received his sentence on Tuesday

Monica Loera

JonCasey Rowell, who shot and killed Monica Loera in her North Austin home on Jan. 22, 2016, was found guilty of murder late in the afternoon on Monday, Nov. 6. The trial began on Oct. 31, and stretched into this week, concluding with a lengthy sentencing phase on Tuesday. After several hours deliberating, the jury returned with a sentence of 20 years. Prosecutors had asked for 45.

The sentencing left Loera's family and supporters from the trans and LGBTQ communities – many of whom were in attendance throughout the days of testimony – feeling disheartened after Monday's conviction. One of Loera's two sisters addressed the court after the verdict was announced. Through tears, she thanked the prosecution, judge, and jury for their work. She also thanked the trans community, of which Loera was a member, for "sticking [the trial] out with us." Then she turned to Rowell: "It saddens me – my sister, my whole family – that you can't really accept responsibility for murdering my sister." Activist Brianna Arredondo said shortly after Rowell received his sentence, "He should have gotten more time."

JonCasey Rowell appears during his murder trial. (photo by Jana Birchum)

Rowell shot Loera at close range after responding to her ad for sexual services on, and admitted as much early in the trial. But his legal strategy was to portray the act as self-defense. Rowell arrived at Loera's house in the early morning, but neither he nor Loera had condoms, so she asked him to go get them. He left, leaving behind his jacket and wallet. When he returned for his belongings, Loera handed him his jacket, but Rowell said he believed she stole his wallet (which was actually in the pocket of his jacket). He returned to his truck, grabbed a loaded gun, and removed the safety. Rowell alleged Loera threatened him with a bat when he returned a second time, though Austin Police Det. John Brooks testified on Tuesday that a bat was never found during his search of Loera's home. Loera's roommates testified to hearing a "firecracker" bang before Loera screamed, "He shot me." The state showed Rowell's Google search history: The day after shooting Loera, Rowell searched "Approximately how many people get away with murder each year in the United States."

The pipeline worker returned home to his wife and 10-day-old baby in Childress (in the Panhandle) that weekend, where he once again searched for trans sex workers.

Though the jury clearly didn't buy Rowell's argument of self-defense, it seems they were swayed by his family's defense of character. A churchgoing, tight-knit family with a yen for gun collecting, his sister told the jury "everyone had a good word to say about JonCasey; I can't think of anyone who doesn't."

Loera's death made history: She was the first transwoman to be murdered in 2016. And as her friend Christi Long testified on Tuesday, that is how many people will remember her. But her murder also sparked a change in how Austin law enforcement treats transgender victims of crime. In the week following her death, Loera was misgendered by APD and local media outlets, which has led to the implementation of an LGBTQ/trans-specific training for all of APD's sworn officers, and the rollout of gender neutral victim affidavits.

For more on Monica Loera and Rowell’s trial, see Gay Place, Nov. 10.

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Monica Loera, JonCasey Rowell

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