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Accused Lapuz murderer still in custody

Neel due back in court Feb 6

The man accused of killing January Marie Lapuz (above) last fall is still in custody after a brief court appearance Jan 7. Credit: facebook.com

The man accused of murder in the death of January Marie Lapuz, who was fatally stabbed in her New Westminster home on Sept 29, will return to court Feb 6 for an arraignment hearing.

Charles Jameson “Jamie” Mungo Neel is charged with second-degree murder in the case. He appeared in New Westminster Provincial Court Jan 7 via videoconference before Judge Daniel Steinberg.

Neel was due to have a bail hearing, but his lawyer, David Tarnow, requested that he be remanded, which Steinberg granted immediately. Neel has been in custody since his first bail hearing, Dec 6, which followed his arrest the day before.

He will have the opportunity to enter a plea at his arraignment hearing and may elect then to be tried by judge or judge and jury.

Lapuz, 26, was found stabbed in her home in the 500 block of 3rd Avenue of New Westminster on Sept 29, New Westminster police said. She was rushed to hospital but died a few hours later.

Lapuz, who was born in the Philippines, was the first transgender person to hold an executive position with Sher Vancouver, a support group for South Asian gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Many members of Sher remember her as a bright light in the organization.

She was known to have experienced an occasionally difficult life on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and had worked in the sex trade.

The youthful-looking Neel appeared on a video screen in a corner of the court. He was clad in red jail fatigues, his head shaven. He was in a small room at the remand centre and spoke only briefly to the judge.

Leada Stray was in court for Neel’s brief appearance, on behalf of the Transtastic Coalition for Equality, which organized a rally in New Westminster Jan 5 to demand justice for Lapuz.

Stray was shocked at the length of Neel’s appearance before the judge, which lasted just minutes.

“I’m stunned,” they say (Stray prefers the non-gender-specific pronoun “they”). “I wasn’t expecting it to be that fast, that easy and that right. The judge [said] the moment it came up, ‘You’re remanded.’ That’s great.

“I look forward to seeing Mr Neel personally on the 6th,” Stray adds.

More than 80 trans people and their allies attended the Jan 5 rally in front of city hall and the courthouse. Activists say Lapuz’s killing underscores the need for a greater conversation about the rights of trans people.