JonCasey Rowell will serve 20 years in prison for the murder of Monica Loera, a Travis County jury decided Tuesday after deliberating for just over two hours.
Rowell, a 30-year-old Childress resident who was working in Central Texas on a pipeline project at the time of the January 2016 killing of the transgender woman, will be eligible for parole after serving half the sentence. But he will get credit for the almost two years he has served so far, meaning he could be released in just over eight years.
The first-degree felony carried a potential sentence of life, or five to 99 years in prison.
“I’m glad we got justice,” said Stephanie Perdue, a transgender woman who is part of the Transgender Education Network of Texas. “But I feel like Monica’s life was robbed. Twenty years wasn’t enough, but it’s more than we usually get.”
Perdue said that, nationwide, 23 transgender women have been homicide victims so far this year.
“I will make sure I do everything I can to make sure (Rowell) serves the full sentence,” Perdue said.
Travis County prosecutors, in their closing arguments to the jury in the sentencing phase, had asked for a sentence of 45 years. Rowell’s defense, citing what had been the South Carolina native’s clean criminal record before a downward spiral involving drinking and prostitutes, asked the jury for lenience.
According to testimony, Rowell responded to an online ad, went to Loera’s North Austin home and paid her for sex the night of the murder. After twice returning to his car after being inside the house, Rowell became convinced that Loera had taken his wallet and began pounding on the carport door.
Loera, witnesses said, told him to go away and threatened to call the police. Then she opened the door, and Rowell shot her in the neck.
The wallet, it turned out, was in his vest.
Rowell fled to Childress, where his wife was tending their 10-day-old child. He was arrested Jan. 26, 2016, when he returned to the Austin area. Rowell, prosecutors demonstrated in court, had gone online in the interim looking to arrange another sexual encounter.
His parents and younger sister all testified on his behalf Tuesday in the sentencing phase of the trial, standing steadfastly in support of Rowell. Wanda Rowell, his mother, said Loera had brought on the incident.
“Someone is doing something illegal and you get pulled into it, and your life is in danger,” she said.
But JonCasey Rowell took the stand as well, and said his act was the culmination of a “gradual slide” into a destructive lifestyle.
“When we make choices in our life, those choices can lead us down the wrong road,” he said. “In my case, it was alcohol and prostitutes. Before you know it, you’re down the rabbit hole and your life is changed in an instant.
“I’m truly sorry for those I’ve hurt.”
Travis County Assistant District Attorney Beth Payan, in her final words to the jury, said their verdict would be heard and felt beyond the confines of Rowell’s jail cell.
“Send a message to the defendant, to his family and to the whole community,” she said. “That’s justice.”