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Victim's Family Hopes California Won't Pay For Murderer's Sex Change

VACAVILLE (CBS 5) - The family of a California murder victim is outraged that the state could be forced to pay thousands for sexual reassignment surgery for their mother's killer.

Ronshonda Renee and her sister Staci McWilliams thought they'd put the murder of their mother behind them when her murderer, Lyralisa Stevens, was put behind bars.

But a headline CBS 5 first brought you in April resurrected their outrage.

"I'm like, 'Lyralisa Stevens, that's him!'" recalled McWilliams.

Lyralisa Stevens, 42, was born a man but lives as a woman.

Stevens first gained headlines when she used a shotgun to murder Bonnie Lynn Lewis in a San Bernardino motel 11-years-ago, over a $400 dollar clothing debt. She is now serving 50 years-to-life for the crime.

Stevens has returned to the spotlight now that she has asked the Court of Appeals to mandate that the state spend between $15,000 and $50,000 for sex reassignment surgery.

The surgery would allow Stevens to be transferred to a women's prison. She has argued that she entered prison with silicon hips and breasts, and at 5 foot 6 inches tall, and weighing 115 pounds, she's under constant threat of sexual or physical abuse among male inmates.

That request doesn't sit well with Lewis' family.

"I just feel that it was totally wrong for you to take someone's mom away from them and then still turn around and want special privileges. I feel that whatever you are getting, you deserve it," said McWilliams.

What Lyralisa Stevens has been getting behind bars is at the heart of this case. The State of California has been spending more than $1,000 a-year on estrogen hormone treatment for Stevens. In all, some 300 inmates receive the treatment at taxpayer expense.

State-funded female hormone treatment may seem hard to believe in the current budget climate, but those who've treated transgendered inmates told CBS 5 that so-called Gender Identity Disorder is not a psychological condition, it's a physical condition - and hormone treatment is a medical mandate.

"Yes I would say it's medically necessary in the same way breast reconstruction might be medically necessary for a woman who had a mastectomy," said Dr. Cecily Cosby, a professor at Samuel Merritt University.

Dr. Cosby treated more than 400 transgendered inmates and believes the state has created this contradiction.

"It seems difficult to say, 'well, we'll allow you to transition up to a certain point, but after that point it's no longer considered medically necessary,'" she said.

In fact, we found court documents showing a doctor now on staff with the department of corrections recommended sex reassignment surgery for Stevens.

One former inmate said she was once in Steven's shoes, and understands the necessity .

"I went to prison to pay my debt to society, not to go to prison to be raped. That shouldn't be a part of anybody's prison sentence," said Faith Phillips.

Phillips described the other inmates she served time with as predators.

"They don't give you any special consideration for your safety or anything. So it's a big issue," said Phillips.

She claimed the medical staff would withhold hormone injections out of spite.

"They can basically veto anything an outside doctor says. You have to fight tooth and nail," said Phillips.

But some in the prison system think the treatments have gotten out of hand. Joe Baumann has been a prison guard for more than 25 years. He said the transgendered are using prisons as hormone dispensaries.

"I think that is ludicrous, particularly the amount of money it's going to cost the taxpayers to do gender reassignment surgery," said Baumann. "We have had issues over the years with people who were very vocal about the fact that they violated intentionally to come back to get medical treatment."

The state declined an on camera interview, but in court documents, officials argued Steven's care is "adequate" and meets constitutional standards, making sex reassignment un-necessary.

Bonnie Lynn Lewis' children couldn't agree more.

"You want the tax payers to pay? For you to use our hard earned money to pay for you to have surgery after you committed a murder? I don't think so," said Ronshonda Renee.

The case is now in the hands of a state appeals court. A decision is expected shortly.

(Copyright 2011 by CBSSan Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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