A group of 50 progressive, civil rights and anti-violence groups launched a massive Internet and print media public information campaign Wednesday across Colorado to inform readers about transgender murder victim Angie Zapata, whose accused killer goes on trial in Greeley next week.
The ads urge readers to “light a candle for Angie,” the 18-year-old Greeley resident found beaten to death last summer in her apartment, and to support passage of legislation that would add sexual orientation to federal hate-crime law. The trial of Allen Andrade, 32, will be the first time in the nation that hate-crime charges will be included in the prosecution of a defendant accused of murdering a transgender victim.
A full-page ad featuring members of Angie Zapata’s family ran in 22 Colorado newspapers the same day the coalition of nonprofits organized by ProgressNow Colorado and the the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) Community Center of Colorado unveiled a resource-rich Web site, AngieZapata.com, and began an Internet campaign that includes Google ads, Twitter feeds and Facebook and MySpace pages. “The strong support of state organizations recognizing the importance of this trial has been overwhelming,” GLBT Community Center executive director Carlos Martinez said in a release announcing the campaign.
Andrade stands accused of beating Zapata to death with a fire extinguisher and his fists in July after he learned she was a transgender woman. His trial, scheduled to run eight days, begins April 14 in the courtroom of Weld County District Court Judge Marcelo Kopcow. Andrade is being held without bond at the Weld County Jail.
When police arrested Andrade driving Zapata’s sister’s stolen car two weeks after the teenager’s body was discovered, he told authorities he had been on a date with Zapata and said that he “killed it” after growing suspicious Angie was transgender. Last month, Kopcow threw out most of Andrade’s confession, ruling that police should have ended their interrogation of Andrade once he told a detective he wanted to stop talking.
Jurors in the Andrade trial also won’t hear evidence prosecutors had hoped to introduce that Andrade belongs to a gang known for punishing — even killing — members who have homosexual sex. Prosecutors had intended to argue Andrade’s gang ties and fears of retribution gave him a motive to kill Zapata, but the judge ruled the information would prejudice the jury.
Potential jurors probably won’t see the “End Hate” newspaper ad campaign, either, which ran just about everywhere in the state except northern Colorado. “We did not want to be seen in any way trying to influence the jury pool,” said GLBT Community Center spokeswoman Heather Draper.
The coalition of nonprofits running the campaign hopes to bring attention to violence against transgender victims, pointing to 21 murders of transgender and “gender non-conforming people” last year. Bias-motivated crimes against transgender and homosexual victims are among the most common tracked by authorities, surpassed only by crimes based on race and religion, according to a 2006 FBI report.
The coalition is calling for Congress to pass the Matthew Shepard Act, which would add gender, sexual orientation and gender identity to federal hate-crime law and allow federal authorities to step in when local law enforcement either asks for help or refuses to take the lead investigating and prosecuting bias-motivated crimes of violence. The federal law passed both houses of Congress in 2007 with bipartisan support, but then-President George W. Bush threatened to veto the bill and congressional leaders dropped it. Last month, Democratic U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee and Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois introduced the bill again and backers have high hopes for the legislation this year because President Obama has said he supports it.
In 2005, the Colorado Legislature added sexual orientation, including transgender status, to Colorado’s hate-crime law, broadening the statute from the Ethnic Intimidation Act to one covering bias-motivated crime.
Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck included hate-crime charges among a raft of other felony counts filed against Andrade, including first-degree murder, automobile theft and identity theft. In December, Buck added habitual criminal charges to the prosecution’s arsenal, which could quadruple any sentence handed down by the jury based on Andrade’s three prior felony convictions for contraband possession, theft and lying to a pawnbroker. Buck said he filed the additional count in case the jury convicts on a lesser-included charge, such as second-degree murder, which carries a statutory sentence of eight to 24 years. A first-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment or the death penalty in Colorado.
“The tragic circumstances of Angie’s death gives Coloradans an opportunity to better understand Angie’s life and the lives of transgender people,” the coalition contends. Toward that end, ProgressNow Colorado produced a video featuring Zapata’s family remembering Angie:
The ad ran in these newspapers at a cost of $36,000, according to organizers: Pueblo Chieftain, Durango Herald, Grand Junction Sentinel, Colorado Springs Gazette, Aurora Sentinel Daily and Weekender, Buckley Guardian, Arvada Press, Lakewood Sentinel, Golden Transcript, Wheat Ridge Transcript, Westminster Window, Northglenn/Thornton Sentinel, Westsider, Thornton Frontier, Littleton Independent, Englewood Herald, Highlands Ranch Herald, Lone Tree Voice, Centennial Citizen, Douglas County News-Press, Castle Rock News-Press and the Parker Chronicle.