Suspect charged in murder of transgender girlfriend in Van Nuys

VAN NUYS, Calif. (KABC) -- A 25-year-old man accused of killing his transgender girlfriend and then setting their Van Nuys apartment on fire pleaded not guilty to murder, with a knife-use allegation, and arson of an inhabited structure or property Tuesday, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said in a statement.

Ezekiel Jamal Dear is being held in lieu of $1.27 million. He is due back in court on Feb. 13.

The suspect turned himself into the LAPD 77th Station at about 3:30 p.m. Sunday. He was initially called a person of interest. Officers later arrested him.

Dear's girlfriend, Yazmin Payne, 33, was found stabbed to death on the kitchen floor at the scene of a fire in the 14600 block of Saticoy Street.

A vigil was held Sunday evening for Payne. She is the the third transgender woman who has been murdered in Los Angeles in the last four months, the National LGBTQ Task Force said in a statement.

If convicted as charged, Dear faces a possible maximum sentence of 34 years to life in state prison.

The case remains under investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department, Van Nuys Division. Anyone with information about the case was urged to call investigators at (818) 374-0040.

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