Prosecutor: Accused Zapata killer didn’t ‘snap’ at transgender ‘deception’

Allen Andrade waits for the jury to enter in the Angie Zapata murder trial. (Pool photo/Eric Bellamy, Greeley Tribune)

Flanked by public defender Brad Martin, left, and investigator Marilynn Cullison, Allen Andrade waits for the jury to enter in the Angie Zapata murder trial April 16, 2009, in Greeley, Colo. (Pool photo/Eric Bellamy, Greeley Tribune)

GREELEY — A man who told his girlfriend “gay things must die” — as he sat in jail accused of bludgeoning an 18-year-old transgender woman to death with his fists and a fire extinguisher — was laughing and joking and didn’t really mean it, a defense attorney told jurors Thursday as the trial of Allen Andrade got under way. “This case is not about a judgment of lifestyle,” public defender Bradley Martin said in opening remarks. “This case is about a deception and the reaction to that deception.”

Andrade, 32, killed Angie Zapata in a fit of rage last summer after discovering she was transgender, Martin argued, urging jurors to reject first-degree murder and hate crime charges in the brutal slaying. “Allen [Andrade] had no idea until right before he started hitting this person that the person he thought was a she was actually a he,” Martin said in the Greeley courtroom of Weld County District Court Judge Marcelo Kopcow.

Murder victim Angie Zapata (Photo/Zapata family)

Murder victim Angie Zapata (Photo/Zapata family)

Nonsense, a prosecutor said, promising to prove that Andrade didn’t “snap,” as defense attorneys have claimed, and that the accused killer wasn’t deceived that Angie Zapata was transgender. “This was not a snap decision,” prosecutor Brandi Nieto tld jurors.”The defendant knew for approximately 36 hours that Angie was biologically male.”

Attorneys spent two and a half days selecting a jury of 10 men and four women — including two alternates, who won’t be designated until the trial has concluded — before beginning testimony in the landmark case, the first in the nation to charge a bias-motivated, or hate crime in the murder of a transgender victim. Colorado is among 11 states and the District of Columbia that include protection for transgender victims in hate-crime statutes.

Quoting from transcripts of jailhouse telephone calls Andrade made to girlfriends, Nieto drove home the prosecution’s contention that Andrade committed a hate crime when he pounded a fire extinguisher against Zapata’s head, crushing her skull and leaving her “bloody, stiff and swollen on the floor,” covered with a blanket, the way Zapata’s sister discovered her the next day.

“It’s not like I went up to a school teacher and shot her in the head or killed a straight, law-abiding citizen,” Andrade told a girlfriend on the phone from jail. Another time Andrade disparaged a “pink-shirt wearing motherfucker,” and said “gay things must die.”

“The evidence will show someone who abhors homosexuals,” Nieto said. “Someone who hates transgenders and killed Angie because of it.”

Andrade’s defense attorney, however, pointed to the same calls as evidence his client could hardly believe he stood accused of a hate crime. Andrade and his girlfriend “are laughing and joking during the whole thing,” Martin said, as the two appreciate the absurdity that Andrade is “being held in custody on a bias-motivated crime charge he knows he didn’t commit.”

Jurors won’t hear evidence that Andrade belonged to a homophobic street gang that threatens to kill members who have had homosexual sex. Last month, the trial judge threw out testimony prosecutors had hoped to introduce that Andrade feared for his life after having oral sex with Zapata so decided to kill her to save face with his gang.

Both sides agree Andrade stole a car, credit card, purses and a cell phone from Zapata, and are only asking the jury to decide whether he killed her after deliberation or in a rage — and whether he killed her because she was transgender. It could mean the difference between a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for a first-degree murder conviction or an eight- to 24-year sentence for second-degree murder. Conviction on Colorado’s hate-crimes law could add three years to Andrade’s sentence.

In December, prosecutors filed habitual criminal counts against Andrade, based on prior felony convictions, which could quadruple any sentence he might receive. He also faces automobile theft and identity theft charges.

Andrade has been held without bond since his arrest in July, nearly two weeks after Zapata’s body was discovered on the floor of her Greeley apartment the day after she was murdered. Police arrested Andrade sitting outside his Thornton apartment blasting the stereo in a stolen car that belonged to Zapata’s sister. The accused killer told police he met Zapata on an Internet dating site and spent the night with her. Andrade said he received oral sex from Zapata but didn’t discover she was transgender until the next day when photographs he’d seen in her apartment raised his suspicions.

Zapata smiled at him and said, “I’m all woman” when he grabbed at her crotch and felt a penis, throwing him into a rage, Andrade told police. He admitted knocking Zapata to the ground and then bashing her head with a fire extinguisher. Andrade told police he thought he had “killed it,” according to court documents. While cleaning the apartment to remove traces of his presence, Andrade struck her again with the fire extinguisher when she made a “gurgling” noise and tried to sit up, before fleeing with her possessions, including the fire extinguisher.

When Andrade called Zapata “it,” the defense attorney said in opening remarks, he was simply exhibiting the same natural confusion many felt about the transgender teen, who had been living as a woman for years. “You’re also going to hear [Andrade] refer to Justin as an ‘it,’ ” Martin told jurors, using Zapata’s birth name as he did nearly every time he called the victim by name. Even police got confused, the lawyer said, adding, “Their own police reports switched back and forth between referring to Justin as a he and as a she.” Martin didn’t say whether police ever called the victim “it.”

Jurors likely won’t hear most of the account Andrade gave police the night he was arrested because Kopcow threw out most of Andrade’s confession obtained after he told investigators he wanted to stop talking.

Prosecutors plan to tell a different story, Nieto said. Phone records show the two exchanged nearly 700 calls and text messages in the week before Zapata’s murder, perhaps because Zapata was looking for a roommate. And though the two spent plenty of time in the close quarters of Zapata’s tiny apartment, Nieto said prosecutors plan to introduce DNA evidence proving Zapata didn’t engage in any sexual activity prior to her murder.

The day before she was killed, Andrade accompanied Zapata to municipal court and was there when they called the case, Greeley vs. Justin Zapata, Nieto said, putting into question Andrade’s claim he only discovered she was transgender the moment before he started pummeling her. Prosecutors plan to call court officials to testify that Zapata often showed up for traffic court with her sister or other women, so Andrade’s presence set off a round of “office gossip,” Nieto said. “Everyone knew Angie was transgender,” she said, and the presence of Andrade at her side set tongues wagging.

Perhaps Zapata brought a man with her to court, Andrade’s defense attorney countered in his opening statement, but it wasn’t his client. “None of them is going to point to Allen Andrade and say, ‘That’s the man that was here,'” Martin said.

The trial is scheduled to run through next Friday, though the judge warned jurors a brewing snowstorm could cancel court this Friday. Defense attorneys indicated Andrade will take the stand to testify in his own defense, which could happen Thursday if the trial stays on schedule.

Gay-rights and anti-violence groups have focused on the trial, hoping to bring attention to dangers faced by transgender people and others with different gender identities. A publicity campaign launched last week includes a Web site devoted to Zapata, transgender issues and a call for Congress to pass the Matthew Shepard Act which would strengthen federal hate-crime laws.

Progress Now Colorado paid for an ad featuring Zapta’s family and the slogan “End Hate” that ran in 22 newspapers across the state last week. The group is also sponsoring a visit to Greeley by transgender blogger Autumn Sandeen, who has been covering the Zapata trial via Twitter.

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Ernest Luning

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